The Ghost
by Nereus

It was pure chance that took him past the place.

It would never have happened if Barbara had been with him, but she
had cried off with a sick headache and Admiral Lord Hornblower had
attended the Governor's dinner alone. He never had liked such
occasions and he never would, but that was not the cause of the bad
mood that had repeatedly nagged at him here in Kingston. Barbara
had noticed, but had not asked questions, she never did for which he
was grateful.

Barbara knew he had been in the Indies as a young lieutenant but she
knew nothing of the events that had happened there. Hardly anyone
still living knew, and he was glad of that as well. If Barbara had
known she would not have understood. She would have assumed that
the past caused him pain, which it did not, or if it did it was the
impersonal pain he might feel at reading some story in a book.
Something that was a pity, but did not concern him.

Because it did not. Because he was not the same man who had almost
met his death in Kingston two decades back. That idealistic young
lieutenant no longer existed, had not existed these many years.
Perhaps the last of him had died with William Bush; at all events he
was gone. Lord Hornblower felt no connection to him, nor did he
wish to. That boy had been far too foolish and vulnerable, too
often wrong and helpless. He did not want to feel that that young
man had in any way been him, all he felt towards him was a kind of
detached pity.

The trouble was that other people might believe that boy had been
him. Lord Exmouth, the former Captain Pellew, most certainly seemed
to think so. Not that he ever spoke of Kingston, but on the
occasions when they met recollections of Indefatigable days were all
too prone to come to his lips. Hornblower found tales of that
painfully inexperienced officer profoundly embarrassing. Couldn't
his old captain understand that he wanted nothing from those days?
That the man he had, with such painful effort, made himself, did not
want anyone to think him one and the same with that earlier, and so
much lesser, self?

The trouble he felt was not pain: it was sheer embarrassment. The
knowledge that Lt Hornblower's mistakes had come close to preventing
Admiral Hornblower from ever existing. The closeness of that long
ago call was most disturbing. Of course he had had narrow escapes
in battle, many of them, but that had been simply the fortune of
war. Kingston had been... different. And he did not like to recall
how nearly the man he was might never have been.

Since Barbara was not with him he had chosen to walk to and from the
dinner, rather than take a carriage or a sedan chair. And it just
so happened that he passed the place. The old naval prison,
abandoned and derelict now. He had heard that vagrants never went
there, some tale that it was haunted, but he did not believe in
ghosts and did not recall the story now.

It was an impulse, nothing more. He would not have sought out the
place, but returning past it the notion came. Perhaps it would
assist him to confront the past head on. Perhaps if for once he
recalled the old tale, as deliberately as possible, instead of
seeking to forget it, the irritation would fade from his mind. It
would surely do no harm.

So he turned his steps towards the building.

The door was gone. He never intended to go further than the
entrance, who knew what traps for the unwary that ruined interior
might hold? He halted a few steps into the darkness, smelling the
damp and decay of it, and telling himself that this had been a
remarkably silly idea.

The sound of footsteps startled him. Sure and steady, they came
from ahead, from inside the old ruin. Not so deserted after all
then....

He never could quite recall how his sight in the next few seconds
could have been so clear. He had no sensation of light flooding the
place, yet the figure that stepped out of an inner doorway in front
of him was as visible as if they had stood in the clear noon sun.

He looked quite solid, although Hornblower knew at first sight that
that could not be so. He had halted, just after coming into view,
and seemed to look directly at the intruder. Whether he had, in
truth, perceived him, Hornblower would never know.

Because for the first and only time in his life Horatio Hornblower
was completely overwhelmed by panic. Because after a heart-arrested
moment he blundered around, and fled from the place as if the speed
of his heels was the one chance of his soul's salvation. He was
streets away before pure breathlessness brought him to a painful
halt. It took a long while to find his way out of the twisting back
streets, and he could not rest that night but stayed awake and
pacing until dawn.

Some days later he plucked up the nerve to ask a local worthy about
the reputed haunting. The man was happy to talk, seemed to think it
added a mark of distinction to the town.

Yes, the ghost had been described, by several people, and all
descriptions tallied. That made the story hard to dismiss, did not
the admiral agree?

A naval officer. A young man, wearing an old fashioned lieutenant's
uniform. No-one seemed to know who he might have been.

So ... it had not been simply his own mind playing tricks.

There was a little more to the description.

A tall young man, the worthy gentleman said, and lean-built, with
dark hair.

And that, too fitted with what he had seen. A young lieutenant, in
the uniform of the turn of the century. But it was the face that
had caused such panic to invade his soul.

His face.

No, not *his* face.

He had known Lieutenant Hornblower was gone from this life.

He had not realised he *walked*.