Something Blue
by Dunnage41

//
As he took up his gloves, Horatio Hornblower was surprised to find his hands trembling. He knew fear, certainly; he was vividly acquainted with the sick qualms that overtook him at the thought of danger, though they vanished in the heat of action; but such unease was usually rooted in his finicking and unreliable stomach. He could not ever remember his hands trembling as a symptom.
//
As he pondered this curious phenomenon further, he became aware that it was not fear causing the tremors. He was not afraid; indeed, he was impatiently excited. His pulses were quickening and his muscles tensing, and he could not for the life of him restrain the foolish smile that kept breaking across his face. Finally he laughed out loud; that old habit of his; he could not help it. It was thus that William Bush found him: gloves in hand, sitting on the bench in his dressing-room, shoulders shaking with laughter.
//
Bush stared at the sight for some seconds without speaking. He had known Hornblower for quite a while now, across a variety of circumstances, from service under a mad captain to his first ill-considered wedding to the dumpy and clinging Maria, from the dangerous use of hot shot to an utterly reckless plunge off a cliff in the face of certain death. He knew Hornblower as well as a wife, and better: knew the wretched seasickness that plagued him, knew his habit of appearing icily calm when he was most excited, knew the gruffness that concealed a kindly interior. He no longer marveled at Hornblower’s odd habit of giggling in moments of crisis. But while Bush, with his positive distaste for the snares of matrimony, might have regarded marriage as a crisis of grave proportions, he would not have thought his captain so inclined.
//
The wedding to Maria, now: that had been a crisis from the beginning. Hornblower had been soft-hearted and foolish enough to respond with helpless solicitude to the tears that had so irritated Bush at the time – he liked women who were lively and even a little saucy. It seemed to Bush – it had seemed so even then – that Hornblower was making a rash decision that he was likely to regret in his tender-heartedness that could not abide seeing a woman cry. Within a week Bush had been standing by Hornblower in the church of St. Thomas a Becket and watching Hornblower and his damnable sense of honor bind himself to a most unsuitable wife.
//
But his Olympian superior, once the thing was done, had closed the door on the subject of his domestic life, blissful or otherwise. For the seven years that he was the husband of Maria Mason, Hornblower had scarcely once mentioned her name to Bush and had never alluded to his life on shore. Bush sensed – on the same level at which he sensed that officers could be divided into brilliant or stupid, cowardly or brave – that Hornblower regretted his impulsive gesture. But he never knew, and when Hornblower had learned of Maria’s death, he had grieved her so privately that Bush could not tell the depth of his emotions.
//
This was entirely different. Lady Barbara Wellesley – as different from Maria Mason as night from day – was unquestionably suitable. Bush wondered only if she were as far above Hornblower as Maria had been below him. He saw, of course, only her cool public face and knew nothing of the bravery, the hoyden recklessness, the utter surrender of her passion. More, he knew nothing of the tender serenity with which she cared for Richard, the infant on whom Hornblower could still not look without a deep wrench of guilt for having caused Maria’s death with his mad jealousy.
//
Each man was thusly for more than a minute: Bush, lost in his thoughts, and Hornblower, his laughter at last under control. He drew a deep breath and looked up, seeing Bush for the first time and getting to his feet.
//
“Is it time … William?” he asked, a blush rising to his cheeks at addressing his friend so familiarly.
//
“It is, sir,” Bush said, and with a subtle gesture indicated the doorway so that Hornblower might precede him.
//
Accordingly, Hornblower and Bush made his way down the stairs. Hornblower was once more under control, his nerves revealing themselves only in the way he flopped the gloves from one hand to the other before finally remembering to tuck them into his waistband.
//
In the parlor, he took what was apparently his rightful place, indicated by a meaningful glance from the vicar, and Bush took up his position beside him. Hornblower cleared his throat before he could check himself; Barbara’s gentle teasing of that habit had made him self-conscious about it. He met Bush’s steady unrevealing gaze.
//
“Well, Mr. Bush?”
//
“Sir?”
//
“If you think this ill-advised, now is the time to speak,” Hornblower murmured.
//
Bush winced, remembering his advice to Hornblower at his first wedding. “No sir,” he contented himself with saying.
//
Hornblower’s lips twitched and he shook his head as he turned back. His hands were trembling again, but the qualm in his stomach was the result of pleasant anticipation rather than deep doubt. He had seldom wanted anything in his life as badly as he had wanted Barbara and was still in shock that it had come about. Then she was there, at the far doorway, in a sheer blue frock with deep tucks in the skirt and a bouquet of lilies of the valley in her hands. Her face bore its usual serene expression; but she could not entirely conceal the smile that kept tugging at her lips, and Hornblower felt an answering smile. The sight of her stopped his breath and he actually made a sound of astonishment that led Bush to lean forward and put a steadying hand on his arm.
//
Somehow Hornblower unfroze himself and, with a deep breath, threaded his arm through Barbara’s offered one. She felt the tremble in his hand and pressed her elbow against her ribs, steadying him.
//
Remarkably, that momentary contact steadied his nerves. He felt himself flooded with a calm he had never known as he faced Barbara.
//
“With this ring, I thee wed; with my body I thee worship,” he said, and his voice was steady and clear. “And with all my worldly goods I thee endow.”
//
This time he needed no prompting to press his lips against hers and feel pleasure shudder through his body with their kiss. He gazed down into her blue eyes and scarcely heard, as from a great distance, the vicar pronouncing them “man and wife together.” Then the small assemblage broke into applause and the nurse handed Richard to Barbara, who cradled the baby in her arms and leaned against Hornblower unabashedly.