A Nightcap
by Harmonita

Do you fancy a nightcap, Horatio?" Dr. Hornblower asked his son.

Horatio looked up at him in surprise. He'd heard his father ask that
question before, but never directed to him. It made him feel proud
to finally be one of those men that were invited to his father's
nightcap-ritual.

"Yes," he answered. "That would be nice."

His father noticed his surprise. "You're man now, Horatio," he
explained. "And it's a pleasure to have the opportunity to share a
drink with my son."

They smiled at each other as they rose from their chairs. Horatio
followed his father to his private library - the room where he'd
spent so many hours studying. He took a seat while his father poured
them both a drink.

"Thank you." Horatio said upon receiving his glass.

Dr. Hornblower walked around his desk, and sank down in his desk
chair. He looked at his own glass, contemplating the stories he'd
heard earlier that evening. Horatio had entertained them all by
telling about his recent adventures. All stories you could listen to
with a smile on your face - about his seasickness, from the moment
he first set foot on board the ship and about his fear of heights
that still bothered him. He'd made all laugh out loud when he told
about the French Captain who couldn't navigate. Dr. Hornblower knew
for sure that his son's `Fish for it' would be quoted for a long
time in their family. Still, he knew there was something that hadn't
been said. It was as if Horatio was hiding something from him. Dr.
Hornblower had seen enough injured officers, and he'd heard enough
stories to know that serving in the Navy wasn't always as pleasant
as Horatio wanted them to believe.

He looked at his son, who seemed to be lost in his own thoughts;
there was a sad expression on his face.

"Horatio," he softly said, to get his attention.

"Yes father?" Horatio asked. He was startled by the sudden
interruption of his thoughts and by the expression on his father's
face.

Dr. Hornblower hesitated for a moment. He didn't want to ruin their
pleasant evening, but he just had to know.
"What is it you're hiding from me?" He bluntly asked.

Horatio looked at his father in horror; he felt his cheeks burn and
his jaw tighten. How was it possible that his father had noticed?
He'd done everything he could to make his family believe that
everything went splendidly. Yet, apparently, he failed. His father
had managed to detect his true feelings, and now he wanted him to
talk about them.

"Horatio," his father said again. "I hope you still trust my
discretion. Anything you want to tell me stays between us but you
have to tell me first."

Horatio looked at his father with fear in his eyes. He wondered what
he should say. Of course he trusted his father. The problem was that
he didn't trust himself. How could he ever trust himself again?

Dr. Hornblower felt his worries rise while he watched his son. He
knew that something was eating him, and he wanted to help Horatio,
and lift that weight from his shoulders.

"It might make you feel better," he declared. "Tell me what it is
that bothers you so much. I could help carrying your burdens,
Horatio."

"I believe I killed a man," Horatio whispered. "A friend." He looked
at his father through a mist of tears.

His father looked at him; there was compassion in his eyes. He felt
his heart ache for his son. Dr. Hornblower could feel Horatio's
guilt; he felt his fears and embarrassment, and there was nothing he
could do.

"What happened?" he carefully asked. He feared his son's answer, but
he realized that Horatio had to keep talking. If he wouldn't tell
him now, then he probably never would, and Dr. Hornblower didn't
dare to think of what would become of his son in that case.

Horatio had gained his self-control again. "Mr. Kennedy," he started
in a low and controlled voice, "suffered from a…" he hesitated "from
a medical condition." He looked at his father for a moment, and then
continued. "It caused seizures, fits. They occurred when he was
under large amounts of pressure." Horatio's voice trailed off. He
wondered how to continue. Would it be wise to inform his father on
what had caused Archie's fits? He finally decided to leave the
details unspoken.

Dr. Hornblower watched Horatio closely. He noticed the almost
tormented look on his face, and he felt his concerns rise. It seemed
as if his son was in two minds over something. "Horatio," he said,
once again. "You can tell me, whatever it is."

`No!' Horatio thought, `Not this, this I can't tell. Not to you, nor
to anyone else.' He took a deep breath, before he looked at his
father again. "We were sent on a mission," he continued his
story. "We had to capture a ship, a French ship, The Papillon.
Archie, Mr. Kennedy, and I were put in command over the jolly boat.
Then he had one of his fits." Horatio paused for a moment. He closed
his eyes, while he battled against his own memories. He knew that
he'd done the right thing that night, but it still haunted him, and
he still felt guilty and regretted his actions.
Suddenly, Horatio stood from his seat. He felt as if he might lose
his wits if he had to stay in that chair for one second longer. He
started to pace through his father's library, while he tried to
collect himself.

His father looked at him, without knowing what to say or do. He'd
always known that Horatio was a sensitive person, and he knew that
he sometimes could react emotionally. Of course he knew; Horatio was
his son after all! But he'd never seen him like this.

Finally, Horatio continued, speaking to himself more than his
father. His voice sounded a lot steadier than he felt inside. "There
was nothing else I could do. He would have woken the entire ship. It
would have meant the end of the mission and the end of us all." He
stopped pacing, and leaned against one of his father's bookcases. He
suddenly felt exhausted.

"What did you do?" his father asked.

Horatio turned his head, surprised to find his father standing next
to him. He swallowed and took a deep breath. "I knocked him
unconscious," he answered. "Then we boarded the ship, and left him
in the jolly boat."

Dr. Hornblower didn't say anything. He waited for the rest of the
story; he waited for it, and feared it at the same time. Whatever it
was what Horatio had to tell him, he knew that it wouldn't be a
pleasant story.

"I was sent up the mast," Horatio said. "Then I saw him drift off."

"How could he drift off?" Dr. Hornblower softly asked. "How could
that happen?"

Horatio abruptly turned around, and started walking to the door. He
felt he had to leave the room before he would say anything he would
regret later. He needed fresh air, and some time alone.

"Horatio," his father said, somewhere behind him. "What happened?
What is it that upsets you so much, that you can't even tell me?"
Dr. Hornblower watched his son turn around to face him again. He was
taken aback when he noticed the sudden tears in Horatio's eyes. He
carefully placed a hand on his arm. "Tell me what happened,
Horatio," he repeated once more.

Horatio looked at his father in despair. What could he say? He felt
a burning desire to tell his father everything, but his own fear for
the truth was even stronger. Horatio just knew he wouldn't be able
to look at his father again, if he knew everything that had
happened.

"One of the Frenchmen cut him loose." He eventually replied.

His father gazed at him, his sharp eyes never leaving his
face. "Don't lie to me, Horatio," he calmly said. "I asked for the
truth."

Horatio looked at his father, he felt embarrassment. How could he
think he would be able to deceive his father? He should've known
better.
"One of our own officers cut him loose," he answered reluctantly.

Dr. Hornblower didn't react to that information. He took his time to
let the meaning of those words sink in.

"He's dead." Horatio said, in an attempt to make an end to that
deafening silence. "Whatever his actions were, it doesn't matter
anymore." His voice sounded bitter, as he was overwhelmed by his
memories. He felt surprised by his own choice of words. `It doesn't
matter,' he thought, `How is it possible that I said that? It does
matter, it still matters to me.' Horatio looked back up at his
father. He could see from his face that he didn't believe him.

"I mean to say…" for a moment Horatio wondered how to continue, "he
can't do any harm anymore."
After those words, he walked towards the door again only to be
stopped by his father's words once more.

"I see," his father started, "and, what other harm has this man
done?"

Horatio had a feeling like he'd been hit on his head. The library
started spinning in front of him, and the floor was suddenly moving
like the deck of a ship. He got hold of the chair next to him, and
struggled to steady himself. He took a deep breath and cleared his
throat. His eyes were closed, and his mouth was dry as he felt
flooded with memories. There were voices in his head, Archie's and
Clayton's, he even recognized his own voice, `Death, mine.' Horatio
shook his head, in a fruitless attempt to clear his mind. Suddenly
Simpson's voice joined in, loud and clear as if he was standing next
to him. Talking about dirty little secrets and calling him a Snotty
again. Horatio grabbed his chair even tighter, and finally returned
to reality. He had made his decision; he would tell his father
everything, and he hoped that that would mean an ending to all this.

"He was a bully," he said, "to all men who served under him."

"Does that include you and your friend?" Dr. Hornblower asked. He
watched his son in horror as Horatio slowly nodded. His father
looked at Horatio's back; he felt sympathy and compassion, but most
of all understanding. He finally started to understand what had
happened. He realized that a lot still needed to be told, but at
least he could now see in which direction this was going, and he
didn't appreciate what that insight showed him.

"How did he bully you, Horatio?" Dr Hornblower carefully asked, "How
bad was it?"

Horatio thought about that question for a few moments. "He used to
beat us," he then stated. "He did everything he could to make us
fear him. He embarrassed us and humiliated us." Horatio paused for a
moment. He gazed out of the window, while he felt his tears burning
in his eyes. "He tried to kill me, several times," he said. "And God
only knows what else he did to Archie." His voice was nothing more
than a low whisper now, barely audible.

Dr. Hornblower stayed silent for a few moments, while he wondered
how to respond to what he'd just heard. He now started to understand
what Horatio had been through for all these months. And he felt a
strange sensation of relief, not because of what he'd just been
told. It actually turned out to be worse than what he'd feared. He
felt relief because his son had trusted him enough to tell. Dr.
Hornblower realized that Horatio could now start to heal his wounds.
Quite a relieving thought indeed.

Then he noticed a stifled sob, and he made his decision. He walked
around Horatio, and placed himself between his son and the window he
was still staring through.

"Horatio," he just said, to attract his attention. His heart ached
when he saw how his son buried his head in his hands.

"Horatio." Dr Hornblower repeated, while he placed a hand on
Horatio's shoulder, but the only response he got was another sob. He
carefully placed his other hand on Horatio's arm, and gently pulled
him closer. He felt his muscles tighten, as if he wanted to turn
around and walk away.

"It's all right, Horatio," his father said, in an attempt to console
his son, "it's all right."

Finally Horatio gave in; he leaned against his father's shoulder
while tears started running down his cheeks. He felt safe in his
father's embrace again, for the first time in months. He was no
longer a naval officer, but a young man with a wounded soul.

The End