Mes Ami, A Missing Scene from Loyalty
"But you! You risked everything on one hand!" exclaimed Bush, closing the door behind them.
Hornblower felt the chill of the night on his dark naval uniform jacket give way to the warmth of the hallway as Bush removed a greatcoat to reveal similar habiliments.
"My chances had to right themselves-- mathematically. Don't you see?" asked Hornblower, waiting expectantly for Bush's confirmation of understanding.
"Well, of course, but..." pausing briefly, Bush added, "No, no, I don't," and he laughed and shook his head.
Hornblower laughed too, happy with his good fortune.
"Ah ha!" said Mrs. Mason, suddenly appearing in the doorway of the dining room, as if she had caught the two officers in some underhanded foolishness.
"Good evening, Mrs. Mason," greeted Hornblower amicably.
"It might be for young rakes squandering their rent money on dissipation and drink," she chided and chuckled, a feeble attempt to join in the merriment she found in her foyer.
"By the scent of gin, madam, it's plain you've had a head start," inserted Bush with a disrespectful air.
Bush exhibited the kind of disdain that the inebriation of one can elicit from another, whose own guard is warmed for battle by the consumption of spirits. His earlier encounter with Hornblower's landlady had not made a good impression. Whatever Hornblower's arrears, no polite person would embarrass a man for his debts in the company of his friends. He went on the offense in defense of Hornblower, hoping to stave off further embarrassment.
Bush's pointed remark brought a hint of a smile to Hornblower's face. But, Hornblower knew, Mrs. Mason had every right to express her opinion of his failings as a lodger. He never felt he could defend himself from her tongue lashings, and he had endured them in the past in silence, contritely, as a midshipman derelict in his duty, dressed down by a superior officer.
The two of them were at each other before Hornblower could gather a thought.
"Such insolence!" she bristled. The laugher quickly altered to vehement confrontation. "And those as can't even pay their reckoning. If Mr. Mason were here, he'd throw you out!" The taste of gin let the antagonism of penned up frustration run free.
"Please, Mother!" said Maria, stepping down from the upper floor.
Mrs. Mason turned to confront the new combatant.
"You can shut your mouth. It's because of you I've let
this young spark run on."
Maria glanced nervously at Hornblower, fearing what else her mother might expose.
"There's hardly a shirt in his chest," whispered Mrs. Mason, information gained through the prying only a landlady could justify. Then loudly she added, "And his chest would be at the pawn shop, too, if...
"Mrs. Mason," interrupted Hornblower.
She turned to face her indebted lodger.
"Twenty-five shillings." He held them up for all to see. "What I owe you plus a week's notice."
"A week's...?" Mrs. Mason stared disbelieving at the coins in her palm.
"Mother. Mr. Hornblower, please," pleaded Maria, "You can't leave."
"Oh, now, sir. You wouldn't leave us... on account of a misunderstanding," chuckled Mrs. Mason lamely.
"Oh, we understood you very well, madam," interjected Bush. "Come on, Horatio," and he latched onto his friend's arm.
"Mr. Hornblower," entreated Maria, "Don't go. Not on such terms."
Hornblower hesitated. His life had turned up an eventful street this day and he had not had time to sort it out or analyze all its ramifications. Indeed, some were yet unknown and awaited clarification on the morrow on board Admiral Pellew's ship, the Tonnant. Dealings with people always required more thought than gauging wind for bringing opposing forces to action. At least, that was how he remembered battle. Besides, it was dark and cold outside, he had not the greatcoat Bush owned, and above all he wanted to rest and ponder his current circumstances in the quiet of his little attic room. Bush would not stay awake long. The man had a penchant for sleeping once in a prone position, not given to restless hours of contemplation in his bunk as Hornblower was.
"Well, ... I suppose it is rather late to go seeking lodgings, William?" Hornblower pointed out to his pugnacious friend.
Bush gave in to Hornblower's decision. How the man continued to reside under such hostile female sniping he could only account to Hornblower's reputation for coolness under fire. Had he not witnessed the same when Captain Sawyer called the lieutenant to task? He did not understand it in this domestic situation, but he could admire it. Bush thanked God his sisters were not harridans and that he only had to spend one night under the same roof with this one.
Mrs. Mason watched Bush ascend the stairs. This man was not one to take a tongue lashing, she thought, but then defended her actions with the notion that Hornblower deserved every word. Still, if Hornblower could pay, he could stay. After all, it was just the attic room he inhabited. It was that realization that made her give in to Maria's urgings to let him remain. No other paying gentleman would abide in such quarters. And, if anything, Hornblower was a gentleman. Though she was not sure she could say the same about his friend. If Hornblower ever got a ship again, he might do for Maria. She and her daughter were both used to short commons and half the pay of an officer was better than nothing at all. There was always the chance of something more, one way or another. Something.
"Come, Mother," said Maria, her voice tinged with a hint of sharp anger, "You should be in bed."
Too many of Maria's private feelings had been revealed this day, first, in deciding to return Hornblower's sword right away.
Maria had wondered that morning why he went out with the weapon on his hip. He did not normally wear it. England was at peace after all. It was happenstance that she saw him enter the pawn shop, happenstance that in her possession was money earned giving private lessons to a student recovering from the mumps, and it was a spur of the moment decision to use the money to redeem the sword. It was no secret that Mr. Hornblower had pawned and redeemed his greatcoat off and on all winter, as his luck at the Long Rooms dictated. That he was so far in arrears with her mother that it occasioned him to pawn the naval sword, was no surprise, and it was a barometer to how his luck was running, an unspoken eventuality, never revealed, but rightly guessed.
Originally, she had intended to place the sword in his room, clandestinely, not divulging her good deed. But he was there, before her, downhearted over his finances, and she so wanted to make him happy. He kissed her hand. Such a forward show of thanksgiving she had never imagined. Retreating to the kitchen she had pressed her hand to her cheek, thrilling over the memory of his lips upon her skin, of her hand held in his, yet blushing that he would do such a thing. It had caught her off guard entirely.
"I don't need your ministrations. Thank you, Miss," spat her drunken mother.
The driving dagger of that word "Miss" entered into Maria's heart, a reminder of her spinsterhood. Her mother knew what knife would pierce to her very soul. But, her mother was drunk, and Maria would forgive her. It was drink and despair speaking, and though her mother would not utter the words to ask forgiveness for the unkind cut, she would give in to her daughter's requests. Maria knew, she would give in.
Her mother and Bush were gone. Only she and Horatio, the man she loved, remained.
"You wouldn't really have left us, would you, sir?" she asked plaintively.
"No, Maria," he smiled. "I don't believe I would."
The young woman had been far too kind for him to abruptly withdraw in such a cavalier manner. Bush did not fully comprehend the circumstances, Hornblower knew. So it was Maria that held Mrs. Mason at bay when he was in arrears, not his feeble promises to pay. Why had he not realized the possibility of her intervention? He told her that very afternoon that she was a good friend, and apparently, an even better one than even he had recognized.
His indebtedness to his landlady mimicked the sea. What he owed her rose like an ocean swell. The amount crested and sometimes he hung suspended in air, hoping for winnings enough to cover his expenses. They had come and for a few days, and occasionally weeks, he had smooth sailing. Then, as wind and wave are want to turn on a sailor, so did his luck. But today..., he pondered,... there was much to scrutinize.
"Goodnight, sir," said Maria, lifting the nightgown to turn on the stairs.
"Goodnight." He waited for the sound of her steps to disappear. It would not do to follow her too quickly. His eyebrows rose and fell at the idea of appearances.
"You still here?" questioned Mrs. Mason as she passed him on her way above stairs, weaving slightly.
Hornblower extended a hand to catch her automatically, but she righted herself on her own.
"I'm off to bed. Them who knows the hour best follow it," she mumbled in that high-pitched authoritative voice, reminding Hornblower of the boatswain on the old Indefatigable so many years ago. The only thing missing was the starter.
He smiled wryly and shook his head.
"Douse the light down there, you," she called back to Hornblower.
"Yes, ma'am," he responded.
He mounted the stairs quietly, the flicker of the candlestick lighting the treads up, up, and up.
Reaching the top of the house, he opened the narrow door into his room.
Bush stood in stocking feet, a night shirt reaching to his calves, and a pointed nightcap on his head. It so surprised Hornblower to see the second lieutenant of Renown so accoutered, he had to bow his head to stifle a snicker. A sure sign he had too much to drink this evening.
"You're laughing at my hat. Don't try to hide it." Bush pulled the cap down on the back of his head and flicked the tasseled point. "My sisters. They swear it will keep the cold away, temperature and illness."
"It is quite fetching, William," lied Hornblower through his teeth, strangling the laugh in his chest.
"Fetching?" Bush twisted where he stood looking for a mirror. Finding Hornblower's shaving mirror on the night stand beside the bed, he lifted it and stared at his reflection. "Fetching. Hm. I shall have them make one for you then, as well." He cocked an eyebrow.
"Ahem," Hornblower cleared his throat doubtfully. "Warm enough?"
"Aye." He motioned to the beds. "The landlady's daughter has brought these extra coverlets, I'll warrant."
With a knit brow, Hornblower had to agree, but commented instead that they would be warm as toast and continued to unbutton the waistcoat and disrobe.
Bush lay down under the blankets, adjusted the point of his hat towards the top of his pillow, and stared at the ceiling.
"Are you still laughing at my hat?"
"No," chortled Hornblower, but that was part of it, that, the wine, and his good fortune. It was a good feeling to pay one's debts. A shadow flitted across his thoughts of a blue-eyed friend. Some debts can never be repaid.
Hornblower shrugged, sat down, and tugged off his trousers. "I don't know. It's good to have you here, William."
Bush looked directly at Hornblower. "It's good to be here..." and he had to bite back calling Hornblower sir. It came so naturally. He was in the presence of a man of astounding ability, he knew, and he felt fortunate indeed to be there, and even more so to be considered his friend.
"What are you thinking?" asked Hornblower, seeing the quizzical look on Bush's face.
Bush knew Hornblower would never take the compliment he wanted to give him. Just being with him tonight, watching how he played that fool card game, with skill Bush could never fully appreciate. Bandying words with Captain Hammond and Admiral Pellew. Two men Bush was only acquainted with by reputation whereas Hornblower had a history with both men. **And he'll make it, too, I'll warrant,** he thought to himself, **like Nelson and Jervis. Yes, Bush my boy, you've happened upon greatness here, but he'll never hear of it. It would only make him more self-conscious than he already is.**
"What? You great pelican!" grinned Hornblower. "You aren't sleeping with your eyes open are you? There are men as do that, you know." Hornblower pulled a ragged nightshirt over his head, sticking his fingers into an open seam on the shoulder and renting it larger. "Oops," he frowned, as he put his hand more carefully into the sleeve.
"That... Maria... would mend that for you, if you asked," offered Bush gingerly, yet wryly.
"Leave it alone, William," said Hornblower warily but with good nature. He slipped his feet beneath the blankets and lay his head down on the pillow with a sigh. "Life is good," stated Hornblower. He looked over at Bush. "I'm pleased you're here. Sorry about Mrs. Mason."
"Oh, don't apologize for that harpy and don't let's speak of her. I prefer pleasant thoughts before bedtime."
Hornblower quietly reflected. "She isn't always like that, but..."
"My turn. Leave it alone, Horatio."
"Yes. Sorry." Hornblower leaned over and blew out the candle. The room remained faintly illumined from a risen fingernail moon through the gable window.
"Now, Admiral Pellew... that's a thought to ponder for dreaming. You'll have your feet on the deck of a ship again, I daresay," said Bush.
"Yes," replied Hornblower thoughtfully.
Bush rolled over onto his side, facing the wall, and shifted the blankets close over his shoulder. "Oh, I am tired. It has been an eventful day," he sighed.
Hornblower said nothing, but stared at the shadowy incline of the roof rafters overhead and breathed deeply. An eventful day, he thought,... the wrenching decision to pawn his sword, that was how it started.
Often he stared at the weapon and wondered why he kept it, yet pawned his greatcoat, especially on those freezing days of December and January and February when the icy winds off the Solent penetrated the threadbare uniform and like as the tentacles of a jellyfish would wound about his body, his legs, his arms. But to give up his sword, it was like surrendering to poverty, like mortgaging his very soul. Then, to receive such a pittance for it, a mere fraction of its worth, compounded his despair. It was an emblem of his honor, of his ability, ...and it counted for nothing.
Maria returned it to him. Out of the blue. Unexpected. It was like being chosen as a champion for a fair lady, like being given back his honor, his worth, his competency. She named him-- "gentleman." She could not possibly fathom what it meant for the sword to be returned.
Like casting your bread upon the waters... only when he gave up that which he cherished most...
Was it only when you sank to the lowest depths that one could begin the climb upwards again? If that was true, then surely he had touched the bottom this day with both palms, for things began to turn around in the most surprising fashion.
Down-hearted and cold, his head bent to the ground, he had bumped into Bush! God, it was great to see him! Despite all the memories of a year ago that flooded over him in the blink of an eye, it was good to clasp a welcoming hand, to see a friendly face, and to find a companion in the dark despair of joblessness. Though Bush's financial distress was not as great as Hornblower's, they were as peas in a pod. He even lived with women as Hornblower did. He would have to remember to ask Bush about his sisters. He knew little of them. It wasn't the kind of thing you found time to talk about on Renown.
Hornblower threw a hand over his eyes despite the darkness. The stabbing pain of remembrance, remembrance seeking to emerge with the return of William Bush into his life. The thoughts of one pushing to the fore. The one of many he could never forget. Archie. He lost Archie.
"William?" he said quietly. "Do you... do you ever think about... about Kennedy?"
Hornblower turned his head and rose on one elbow.
He could hear the steady slow breathing. Asleep. Hornblower lowered onto his pillow and sighed.
"God, Archie," he whispered. "Why did it all have to happen?" Inhaling long, he pushed away the memory of his good friend. It would not do to waken Bush with weeping. He had not wept for Archie since... "Stop it," he ordered. He tossed his body sideways.
**A deck under my feet, that was what Bush said was a better thought for dreaming.**
Dreaming. It had been a dream for nigh on a year. What could the admiral want? Were things stirring across the Channel? Would he take him into the Tonnant as a lieutenant? He would serve his old mentor gladly. Could he put in a word for Bush? No one doubted the peace would be short-lived, but... war? It was a bloody business. It was Hornblower's livelihood, trafficking in life and death. For what? He lay on his back and stared in the darkness. For king and country. For England. Yes, England.
Life. Death. A cold companion. He desired it greatly on the voyage away from Kingston. While Kennedy had been sentenced to death, he had been sentenced to life -- by Kennedy,-- when he would have gladly bore the blame. Might Kennedy have lived if Archie had not walked into court that day? A gift, Archie called it. A gift that could never be returned in kind. He pressed the butts of his palms into his eyes and wagged his head. "Archie, Archie," he whispered, then rotated onto his side.
This room. It was small like the cabin of Retribution. His first command, a bittersweet reward, he would have rather had the life of his friend. No turning back. There was no turning back. Time did not allow for reversals.
/////"A humble sloop takes on two ships of the line. Humph. Well, we shall soon see if that is valor or mere foolhardiness," muttered Hammond in his inimitable way./////
Hammond. The man brought a frown to Hornblower's visage. He supposed he just rubbed the captain the wrong way, somehow. Like with Simpson, there were some men that took an immediate dislike to you. Was it envy? Of what? Hornblower wondered.
**I do my duty as best I can and I am accused of ambition, jealousy, a desire to climb higher. Yet when I fumbled my exam, Hammond took great delight in my nervous inability to provide an immediate answer. I am damned if I do and damned if I don't.** He sighed frustratedly. **Foolhardiness? Did you want me to leave the convoy unprotected and run? What was I there for?**
The sea was running high that day..................
"There's two of 'em, sir!" shouted Tucker from the top.
"I see them," said Hornblower through clenched teeth.
"Seventy fours, aren't they, sir?" said Matthews.
Hornblower did not reply. The French ships of the line were separating, one coming after him, the other on a course for the West Indies convoy he was escorting to England.
"Set the headsail, Matthews, and the jib. They intend to cut us off from the convoy. We will intercept the one there veering off northwest, and we'll leave the other set sou'west to wallow. Serve them right for thinking I'm easy prey. Have the guns ready to answer."
"Aye, aye, sir!"
It was unusual for ships of the line to go after a convoy. Usually privateers, smaller and faster ships, like Retribution, were the predators, cutting out a ship here and there, like wolves with straggling sheep. He could only assume it was a case of opportunity on the big ships' part.
But like a sheep dog, Retribution had seen to it that the herd
stayed in a bunch. She dodged around and about them when necessary,
as in the beginning when Hornblower had sailed full tilt to overtake
the leader and have words with the captain. It had been an exhilarating
chase and an opportunity to see just what Retribution could do.
A stitch in time saves nine as it were, for Hornblower explained
his preferred strategy for sailing, a strategy that he hoped would
deny capture of a one of these. After all, the purpose of attacking
a convoy was generally to capture the goods, not send them to
the bottom. Sinking was a last measure to deprive, and the taking
of prizes was much preferred on both sides.
"Signal Captain Martin to increase sail, Mr. Gibb," ordered Hornblower.
England was less than two days sail away and France even less so. The greater danger was now with the proximity of their destination.
Hornblower eyed the course of his enemies, then with near clockwork precision, he watched the courses, head sails, and studding sails loosed on his little flock. His chest surged with them as they leaped forward with accelerated velocity. With a nod of satisfied determination, he gave his next order, putting on a greater press of sail, adjusting the braces, gaining every inch of speed the wind could give him.
The boom of cannon cracked over the waves followed quickly by a splash aft. Matthews saw the final spray fall upon the water. When he looked back, Matthews found Hornblower's eye meeting his.
"They do not approve my decision, Mr. Matthews."
"Indeed, not, sir!" he grinned.
It had been a long uneventful voyage from Jamaica. A fight would top it off well, thought Matthews.
His captain had been quiet and melancholy for the majority
of the voyage. He accounted it to a loss sustained and keenly
felt by Hornblower. He had been with Hornblower for almost ten
years, from cub to captain. Matthews knew Kennedy's loss would
not soon be forgotten, if ever. It was those melancholy days
that made Mr. Kennedy's absence apparent to Matthews and Styles,
for Hornblower's lost friend and fellow officer had that singular
ability to find humour in the most dire of situations. His levity
in contrast to Hornblower's grave demeanor gave the duo a balance
that fostered the notion that despite the danger, there was strength
and confidence of winning. The impossible was doable, just as
their endeavor now, like a terrier against a lion, nay two lions!
But it was a bloody fierce terrier.
No, the Frogs did not like Hornblower's decision. Surely their mouths must have been agape, for instead of running from the heavier armed ship, the little sloop was set to attack. The nearer seventy four advancing toward Retribution had lost her wind in the turn to try to follow the sloop's interception course with the Frog's sister ship. Matthews grinned as he watched her sails luff and her hull rock ponderously in the heavy water.
Now another boom from the seventy four ahead, but the shot fell short. Her lower gun deck ports remained closed. The sea was on England's side today.
"Four points to starboard, Mr. Grimm," ordered Hornblower, his attention set on the wind and calculating Retribution's speed to that of the French ship. His eyes quickly assessed the larboard guns. With two quick steps to port, he bellowed, "Larboard gun battery, we're going to rake her stern. Be ready on my signal!"
The heightened senses of every man aboard the little sloop were vibrating like the smallest string of a violin. The lines of Retribution hummed in harmony as each man realized that their captain meant to take on a ship of the line. It would be death or victory and death seemed the more logical outcome.
The French Captain must have been laughing, thinking Hornblower's move was folly, a sloop taking on a ship of war, but Matthews, with every muscle tensed with anticipation, watched unfold what Hornblower had to have analyzed. It was brilliant seamanship if it worked, a bold stroke of folly if it failed.
With the increased speed of the convoy, the seventy-four was adjusting to make chase, losing her wind and slowing slightly with the change of course. Retribution was skipping sideways and forward. The seventy-four fired her larboard cannon, but Retribution, with bow on, gave a small and moving target and the shot fell around them like hail in a puddle.
"Ready all!" warned Hornblower. "A point to lee!"
They were rapidly approaching the larboard quarter. Matthews could see the men on her quarter-deck scrambling to her aft guns. Tamise, their enemy had a name.
"Fire as she bears!" ordered Hornblower.
The leading larboard gun belted out her shot and then her sisters one after the other. There was a tremendous explosion on the deck of the seventy four, but no time to assess the damage they caused.
"Helm a lee, hardover!" barked Hornblower, before they had barely passed her. The immediate altering of course saved Retribution's wind and she did not lose her weigh. Her disciplined crew met the change of course with precision, pulling on the braces to keep her sails filled, the gaff boom swung over.
The French anticipation of a target for their starboard guns was foiled, the cannon balls falling uselessly upon an empty sea. Retribution was swinging round to rake her again.
"Starboard guns! Fire as you bear!" ordered Hornblower.
The gun crew on the aft quarter of Tamise fired, but Retribution was too close and the shot flew high overhead.
Hornblower looked over his left shoulder to see the other Frenchman had his sail sorted and on a firm course. There was still time.
"Helm a weather, hardover!"
A shot nicked Retribution's starboard taffrail.
"Look, sir, we've taken out her rudder! You've the devil's own luck, sir!"
As the smoke cleared, Hornblower could see Matthews was right. Tamise, now ami, thanks to Retribution's guns, was a friend indeed. His mouth formed a wry snarl that might have been a smile, but that he knew he had not quite earned his pay this day. There was another seventy-four rapidly approaching.
"Helm, amidships!" ordered Hornblower. He gave the damaged seventy four a salute saying, "Adieu mes ami." Then, turning to the ship looming ahead of them, he spat, "Introduce me to your sister."
The rest was history. It was Hammond and his squadron that came upon the scene that day, Retribution victorious over two French seventy fours. The crusty captain had been as disbelieving then as he was this night.
A humble sloop... maybe. Foolhardiness? Valor? Those were Hammond's questions. Hornblower's only reply was... duty. And if death had taken him... all to the good... for it was all he deserved. But, death was not the victor that day and Hornblower could see in his mind's eye the knowing confident smile of his lost friend.
"Archie," whispered Hornblower.
The apparition in his mind grinned and shook its head, "You've done the same for me and others besides a thousand times... and you will do... again."
Hornblower wagged his head against the vision slowly, but the picture in his head smiled the more gently, the visage holding sure, steady, convinced, gave a faint nod and a slow blue-eyed blink of satisfaction.
"Archie..." Hornblower's eyebrows lifted in submission. "You know me too well, my friend." Hornblower pursed his lips and rolled over. "I'll do my best not to disappoint you. It is all I can do."
"I know you will," Hornblower heard faintly as the vision dissolved and sleep overtook him.