There and Back Again
by Dunnage41

The steady pacing of the deck for exactly an hour each morning at dawn was a habit by now so deeply ingrained in Horatio Hornblower that he could not seem to break it even when nothing around him commended him to it. The village was hardly a twenty one foot stretch of quarterdeck; the tranquil sounds of the animals being tended on the farms scarcely echoed the only music he enjoyed, that of the creaking and flapping of sails; he had no urgent need to know which way was the wind, though he quite unconsciously noted it as being light and from the west; and instead of leaving him alone, as his crew knew to do, the few villagers he encountered at that hour as he walked round the village insisted on either touching the cap or dropping a respectful bob, and he had to force himself to smile broadly and nod gravely in reply, when each instance recalled to him with a surge of resentment the days when he, as a village boy, had had to touch his cap to the squire.
//

But a lifetime in the service of the King had taught him, among other things, to acquiesce to ceremonial regardless of its usefulness or lack thereof..
////
He particularly needed the walk this morning, to stretch his legs and feel the gratifying prickle of sweat which would be his reward. Last night’s gathering to which Barbara had persuaded him had been dull in the extreme. Lord Lawton refused to set out card-tables -- rumor had it that he was an abominable player himself -- the company had been insipid and the food heavy and poorly prepared. Hornblower’s empty stomach churned and complained, still queasy from the dismal fare he had consumed. He sighed deeply, wishing it were possible to communicate to Barbara his disinclination to ever attend a social gathering again and realizing as he formed the thought that it was not only extreme but unpardonably uncharitable.
////
For a stretch after the last irritating encounter with a village-woman he was left blissfully alone; and so deep in his thoughts was he that he barely registered a carriage stopping a little distance off and a figure alighting from it, though the figure wore a uniform that something in his busy mind registered automatically as requiring his attention. Still, it was not until the figure drew abreast of him and cleared its throat that Hornblower, blinking, registered that here was Admiral Sir Edward Pellew standing in front of him, astonishingly; and more astonishingly, he looked unshaven and sleepless, and he held in his hand something that looked very much like a dispatch from the Admiralty.
Hornblower brought his scattered thoughts to bear with an impatient shake of his head.
//
"Admiral Pellew," he said, mentally cursing himself for having stated the obvious. "An ... unexpected pleasure, my lord."
//
A ghost of a smile creased Pellew's mouth. "No doubt," he said dryly. "I have only just escaped a meeting at the Admiralty that began at 9:00 last night."
//
Hornblower sketched a bow. "May I offer my deepest condolences, my lord," he said gravely.
//
This time the smile was broader, though the eyes still were dark with weariness. "Thank you," he said with equal gravity. "After eight solid hours, the one matter on which my brother admirals and ..." he paused and looked around to ensure that no one else was within hearing ... "the fat ass of the body politic were in unanimous, not to say enthusiastic, agreement on was that the one man for the job was none other than the Terror of the Mediterranean, in hopes that he might bring his ... ah ... powers to bear in another body of water."
//
Hornblower could not help looking puzzled at the unusual speech. Pellew despised nicknames, particularly those born of action; Hornblower still remembered Pellew's clipped and ungracious response when, as a young midshipman, Hornblower had incautiously made reference to "Dreadnought" Foster. That was before Foster's own reckless and high-handed behavior had cost the Caroline, of which Hornblower had temporary command, two full sides of beef. Doubtless, Hornblower told himself, Pellew was beyond sense. Exhaustion from an eight hour meeting followed by a lengthy carriage ride to Smallbridge, and it was a wonder he was still on his feet.
//
"Well, open it, man," Pellew snapped, waving the letter under Hornblower's nose. "We haven't got all day."
//
Hornblower automatically took the thing, then, mortally embarrassed, fumbled at his pockets. "Er ... my lord ... do you have a knife about you?"
//
Silently, but with a flicker of a smile, Pellew handed over a small silver clasp knife and Hornblower opened the letter. Hornblower trotted through the familiar phrasing:
////
"I am commanded ... Their Lordships desire to employ you immediately ... a service which Their Lordships consider worthy of an officer of your seniority and standing ..." and then at last the words which made his pulses race, every time: "You are hereby requested and required..." only this time, he was requested and required to inform the admiralty whether he chose to accept the appointment (as though there could ever be any question), and even as he knew that this was hardly the time to leave Barbara, he could no more decline this appointment than he could cut off his own head.
////
Having read through the formalities once, he started again, this time trying to pluck from the cabbage of phrasing the meat of the assignment. Ah, here it was: Pellew was to supply him with a ship of his choosing from among those available to ... here it was ... the Baltic! ... Hornblower by now automatically translated the stiff cautious phrasing into bald action: he was being sent on a diplomatic mission to the King of Sweden, who was uncertain whether to back Boney or Britain. He was to nose about the harbor at Malmo as he had nosed once about the French fishermen; then he was to establish relations with the King of Sweden and advance the persuasion that Sweden herself would be well served by backing England instead of the Corsican tyrant. Another phrase from years back leapt into Hornblower's mind: "There's folly and foolhardiness on one side and daring and calculation on the other."
////
He became conscious of Pellew's gimlet stare boring into him and hastily brought his thoughts back to the letter in his hand. He must name a ship. And, it seemed, a captain, for he was a commodore now with a pendant of his own and furthermore ... somehow he had missed this earlier ... he was to sail that very night. Good God. He had ... his mind went to the tide tables ... he had some fourteen hours to fit a ship for sailing to the Baltic for a months-long mission. Months-long!
////
He blinked as he was reminded of why he was so very reluctant to leave Barbara alone. The last time he had sailed leaving a pregnant wife behind it had been Maria, and she had died thinking him dead, drowned, a disgraced prisoner in France, and while his grief had been complicated he knew that should Barbara die, particularly while they were parted, his grief would be animalistically simple and might well finish him off by the sheer weight of it; he half hoped it would. His love for Barbara was nothing like his love for Maria. That had been born of sympathy; pity, really; and sustained on a mixture of his own fierce stubborn pride at refusal to submit to what he believed others' opinions were of his coarse, awkward wife – and the confused tenderness that held sway over his heart whenever he remembered (or she reminded him, wordlessly) that she adored him, worshiped him, and that she hung on his every word, smile, gesture, and glance. That curious mix had been sharpened by his memory of the courage she had determinedly put forth on every possible occasion, including their partings and especially including the mercifully brief illness and awful death of little Horatio and little Maria; as well as his own memory of the knowledge that she had died bereft and thinking herself the wife of a prisoner.
////
But here was Pellew clearing his throat; God knew how long Hornblower had been staring blindly at the letter, and time was wasting quickly. Hornblower shook his head, disordering his brown curls still further, and looked what he hoped was an intelligent and steady gaze back at Pellew. Now a new thought came to him unbidden. Why on Earth was an admiral hand-delivering a dispatch? That was certainly not the way of things.
//
Pellew, disconcertingly reading his thoughts, favored him with a small smile.
//
“I was requested … and required … to see for myself whether you had quite recovered from your typhus,” he said wryly.
//
“I am entirely fit for duty, my lord,” Hornblower said quickly. “And more than ready.”
//
Pellew opened his mouth, shut it again, and then said: "What will you need?"
////
"H'm. Something handy and small," Hornblower said, thinking rapidly. The routes possible to take him to Sweden would likely not take him into range of too many enemy ships, not unless Boney made better progress through Scandinavia than Hornblower thought likely, and if he were to beat about the coast he would want something with a nimble touch, particularly if he wanted to make round Denmark to the tiny, almost landlocked harbor at Malmo.
//
"The Porta Coeli's at anchor," Pellew replied. "An eighteen gun brig. She responds deftly to a deft touch."
//
"That will do well indeed, my lord," Hornblower responded.
//
"You'll need to name a captain," Pellew said significantly; Hornblower himself now had the power others had once had over him. In a handful of words Hornblower could bestow a significant stroke of luck on some individual – or he could bypass the idea of shoving someone upward and instead choose the tried and true. On a mission of this delicacy he had no desire to place himself in unknown hands.
//
"I'll want Bush if he's available, my lord," he said simply. Pellew smiled again.
//
"Thought you might," he said. "Send someone to the dockyard with a message." By now, having walked as Hornblower read, his mind racing, they had returned to Smallbridge, and the sight of his own house recalled Hornblower to his duties as host.
//
"My lord," he said. "Will you require breakfast first, or sleep?"
////
"Breakfast, quickly," Pellew said. "Sleep will come later." And here was Brown, taking their coats, and summoning a servant with a command to lay before the admiral and Hornblower a breakfast, and before Hornblower could open his mouth he read in Brown's gaze his knowledge that Hornblower was being called to service again. How did the man do it? His pulses racing, Hornblower, desirous of appearing at least somewhat Olympian to his valet, nevertheless waited until he had received his first cup of coffee and dispatched half of it before beginning to send forth a veritable torrent of orders, knowing that Brown would receive and carry them out with equanimity.
////
"A paper and pencil," he said first, and hurriedly wrote a note offering Bush his compliments and asking him to do him the honor of accepting the captaincy of the Porta Coeli; and if so, please to make her ready for sailing on the evening tide; and to please allot for him, Hornblower, whatever space he chose, emphasizing by repetition that Hornblower would be pleased to berth wherever it was convenient (though he knew perfectly well as he traced the words that Bush would give up the captain's quarters to Hornblower). He added that he would make for Portsmouth as fast as was allowable and would board that evening.
////
"Have this sent to Bush at the dockyards immediately," he said; then, scarcely drawing a breath, he added: "Have my chest of winter things taken to the dock and brought aboard, if Mr. Bush is agreeable; also, inspect my sea-chest and make a list of what I shall need from Cutler and Gross; oh, and get word to them that I must be seen this morning, the sooner the better; and pack a chest for yourself. Stop at Coutts, I'll write a note for you to get what you need; be sure to put provisions aboard for me, I expect I'll have to do some entertaining, and whatever you do, make sure there's plenty of coffee and sugar, and for heaven's sake don't buy black-currant jam but any other flavor will do. And Brown, if the lambs look well you might send one to Mr. Bush and one to the officers' wardroom, with my compliments." He took the briefest moment to savor the extraordinarily pleasant sensation of being able to provision himself without worrying so about money as he had once had to do.
////
He had given his orders nearly in one breath, each thought leading to the next so rapidly that he was making his own head swim, but Brown, capable and unflappable, received each instruction calmly and waited until he was at last finished before he said, "Very good, my lord."
//
Pellew said nothing through this; he was busy with his breakfast, and he himself had put to sea on short notice so many times that the rapid-fire delivery of a dozen independent instructions was as unremarkable to him as breathing.
////
A thought occurred to Hornblower, then, an unwelcome one, occasioned by the juxtaposition of talk of food and the need for new uniforms. First he remembered how shabby his best uniform was and that he would undoubtedly require an entire new one. Then, on the heels of that, came a thought that tended to irritate him each morning when he dressed: Despite his unflagging diligence at taking exercise for an hour daily, despite his natural abstemiousness regarding food and drink, the inevitabilities of middle age were beginning to dictate the development of a rounded belly that annoyed him beyond all reason. Both Brown and Barbara, the former aboard and the latter at home, seemed to think that he would starve himself if left to his own devices and constantly urged him to eat and overeat, and he devoted what seemed a ridiculous amount of time trying to please them and his own more moderate desires at once. And yet, in spite of everything, he was morally certain that Mr. Collins would require more tape to measure round his waist than the last time he had stepped into Cutler and Gross, a full eighteen months ago.
////
As usual he gave himself no credit for what he had accomplished and too much blame for things beyond his control; and now, the thoughts having joined themselves in his critical mind, he pushed away his plate with a grimace, though he was hungry. The gesture occasioned a raised eyebrow from his guest and he hastened to a lame explanation.
//
"I'll ... er .... wait for Barbara," he said, and as he said it he heard the false note in his own voice and hastily stood, grateful that as he spoke her name he heard her light footsteps and guiltily conscious at once that he must – of all times – soon deprive her of his company.
//
He was about to effect an entirely unnecessary introduction, but Pellew saved him by rising and making a bow.
//
"A pleasure as always, Lady Barbara," he was saying. "I pray you will forgive my interruption of your domesticity."
//
Barbara was beaming upon their guest. She was genuinely fond of Pellew and his wife.
//
"Your presence brightens the morning, sir," she replied prettily, before bestowing on Hornblower the lightest possible brushing of her soft lips to his cheek that was her greeting to him in public. Hornblower helped her to a seat and wondered where to begin. With the truth, he supposed; he was little fond of backing into anything.
//
"My dear," he said, resisting the urge to clear his throat. "It seems I have received orders from the Admiralty." He tried to make light of it. "I fear that I shall miss the season in London."
//
At that Barbara's face, which had begun to assume the ivory blankness he associated with news of his departure, lightened and she positively laughed. "You need not pretend dismay over that on my account, dearest," she said.
//
"I take it, then, madam, that my acting skills leave something to be desired?"
//
Barbara's lips twitched. "You tread the boards more successfully afloat than onstage, dearest," she replied, and Hornblower dropped his gaze as he felt himself blush. Then he did clear his throat.
//
"I ..." Dash it all, how was he going to express what he had to say in front of a guest, much less an admiral? Out with it. "I .... regret ... profoundly that I shall be leaving you ... at this particular time," he said finally. There, the thing was done, if inadequately. Barbara, defter than he at social parries, nodded gravely, understanding his unspoken meaning.
//
"I shall be well cared for, dearest," she said. "I will not be in any danger. You must not fret yourself on my account."
//
By now Pellew understood what they had not voiced. "Might I offer my felicitations, madam," he said warmly, "and my wish that all goes very well indeed for you in the months ahead."
////
Barbara nodded gravely and bestowed a smile on him. "My thanks, Sir Edward," she said. "I have every confidence." She flicked a glance at Hornblower. The glance, that single look from those sapphire-blue eyes, weakened his every fiber and cut off, in silent grace, any protest he had been going to make at leaving her without him while she – amazingly – carried their child. Though neither had spoken of it, he knew that her apparent inability until now to bear children had grieved her, which was part of why it had taken her more than a year before she could look upon Richard, whom she loved, without discomfort. Richard! Hornblower blinked as he realized that not only would he be leaving Barbara in her condition; he would be leaving Richard, who was now nearly 18 months of age and toddling quite handily. When he returned – if he returned – Richard might be running and climbing, and Hornblower would have to reacquaint himself to the child all over again. That thought brought a smile to his face. His heart leaped every time he saw Richard, who invariably beamed with delight at the mere sight of his father; it was the most flattering thing Hornblower had ever known, and it went to his head every time.
////
Then he became conscious that Pellew and Barbara were gazing at him. With effort he forbore to clear his throat. "I have every confidence as well, my dear," he said, hoping that the damnable quaver he heard was not apparent to the other two. Even if he did not – and he was not at all sure he did – there was nothing for it. For twenty or more years he had parted from the shore, leaving a wife, leaving an expecting wife, leaving on one occasion a wife only an hour from delivering, leaving a child, two children; and then, horribly, leaving a wretched common grave in which those two children lay. He had been parted from Barbara more times than she knew, in that dread gray interval while his heart longed for her and his honor and duty bound him to Maria; and this was only another parting. Barbara was well cared for, more so than Maria in those humble lodgings in Southsea had ever been, and in better health, he told himself. There was no reason she should take a fever; there was no reason that this should be a remarkable pregnancy.
////
Now Brown was back with a list of what he would need from Cutler and Gross, and it looked like a long one. Hornblower suppressed a sigh and stood; going around the table he bent and dropped a kiss on Barbara's upturned cheek and lingered to cup her chin in his hand. He wished he were not so very conflicted about leaving her. At the same time he felt his emotional compass swinging inevitably round from doubt to excitement. Hornblower suddenly felt flooded with the eagerness the thought of a new assignment gave him. He nodded absently to Pellew, feeling his pulses thudding in his ears and feeling his sinews tighten, scarcely hearing Pellew say that he would join him on his sojourn to Cutler and Gross to refresh his supply of stockings.
////
Pellew was commendably silent during the journey toward Portsmouth. He had withdrawn himself while Hornblower had made his goodbyes to Barbara and Richard and now held his tongue through a combination of natural rectitude and a Naval officer's understanding of the difficulty of partings and the wild mix of emotions they brought. It was only upon their arrival at Cutler and Gross that Hornblower contrived to shake himself even a little out of the downward swing of his mood, which had darkened with every minute that he was farther from Barbara and not yet at sea.
////
Mr. Collins, in his painfully obsequious manner, suggested that a new set of measurements might be in order, as it had been some time since Hornblower's last visit. Standing stripped to breeches in the fitting-room, Hornblower with some effort managed not to hold his breath. If he were vain enough to wish to fool his tailor momentarily, who anyway could doubtless see what Hornblower saw, he would pay for it by cursing the tight fit of his breeches and waistcoats every day for months once at sea. And now Mr. Collins was saying something. Hornblower had only nodded absently at the measure of his shoulders, arms, and other parts, but now the man had the tape round his waist and his vanity dreaded the results even as he jeered at himself for being as much a fop as Brummel himself.
////
"Thirty inches and a half, my lord," Mr. Collins said, still obsequious. Hornblower drew in a breath, then, and only just stopped himself from sighing in relief. It would never do for him to let the tailor see how glad he was that his waist measurement was miraculously unchanged. Instead he flicked an uninterested glance downward as the measure was coiled away.
////
"Very good," he said curtly, and nodded at the assistant who held Brown's lengthy list. "Have the goodness to tot it up." He nodded at the assistant again, marveling as he did so that he could say that so calmly, knowing that his purse was wondrously full and remembering all the times that he'd had to forgo improvements to his uniform and had to choose pinchbeck for the shoe buckles and brass for the single epaulette. Now he would have gold, and a dozen pairs of stockings, half of cotton and half of the best China silk, and the heavy epaulettes, a pair of them, would be of real gold, and the sword at his side was the hundred- guinea one, the pearl and gold trim the French had barbarously stripped away beautifully restored by Turner & Sons and the lengthy inscription that had confounded Duddlestone the purser gleaming along its polished steel blade.
////
The assistant recited a total at which Hornblower only just stopped himself from raising an eyebrow; instead, he calmly reached for his purse, paid the balance, and tipped the assistant and Mr. Collins generously. He fidgeted while Brown and the tailor's assistant meticulously completed the packing of his sea-chest with his new clothing, only just refraining himself from checking his watch a dozen times. Being dressed in the new uniform both pleased and relieved him, however, and he was able to smile at the reflection in the mirror, which looked, he thought, well enough. He was still smiling when he rejoined Pellew and they made for the dockyard. The sea was calm enough, thought Hornblower could not help casting a worried glance at the clouds piling up, and the brief journey to the ship unremarkable. Hornblower and then Pellew were piped on deck. Then Bush was shaking his hand soundly and his craggy face was alight with pleasure at the thought of leaving
his dockyard job and going to sea again, and with Hornblower, whom he liked and admired. The feeling was mutual, and Hornblower managed not to even look at the wooden leg he had seen carved at de Gracay's villa, and with which Bush now walked with scarcely more of a roll in his gait than any Jack Tar had.
////
"Once out you'll rendezvous with the other ships," Pellew was saying, directing his comments both to Bush and to Hornblower. "The Dumbarton, Sophia, and Catherine, the Harvey, and the Clam. That'll be enough to keep an eye on the harbors and also to attend to ... other business." The gleam in Pellew's eye was unmistakable; he was a father who had revealed a treat to his restless son. It took all Hornblower's effort to keep his face immobile as he replied politely, "Aye, aye, my lord," while wondering what was so damned amusing to the admiral.
////
"That's that, then," Pellew said finally, and at last he was piped over the side. Hornblower fought his natural impulse to snap out an order to make weigh; this was Bush's ship and he was little more than a passenger. He had no more need to tell Bush what to do than he had need of telling Brown to bring him coffee in the morning. He contented himself instead with sighing deeply, uncertain whether the sigh was occasioned by pleasure or melancholy. Bush heard the sigh, and understood at least part of it, for he glanced sympathetically at Hornblower as he raised his deep voice and bellowed the necessary orders. Hornblower compressed his mouth and was about to clatter down the hatchway when he remembered that he owed Bush more than that abruptness.
//
"Mr. Bush, sir," he said at length. "Where might I find my quarters?"
//
Bush dropped his gaze for a moment before meeting Hornblower's eyes. "You have the .... er, captain's quarters, my lord."
//
"No need for that, Captain Bush," Hornblower snapped, his embarrassment at having to turn Bush out of his own cabin making him brusquer than he meant to be.
//
"Indeed, my lord, I should be remiss if I did not offer you the best the ship has," Bush said earnestly, and Hornblower saw that he was on the verge of hurting Bush's feelings. Bush was proud of his ship, as any captain was, as a mother might be proud of her child or a landowner his home, and eager to put the ship's best on display for his commodore.
//
"Ha–h'm," Hornblower said. "Thank you, Mr. Bush."
//
"Yes, my lord," Bush said, surprised and glad at the change in tone.
//
"And Mr. Bush," Hornblower added suddenly. "Might I have the pleasure of your company at dinner tomorrow afternoon?"
//
Then Bush could not restrain the smile that lit up his face.
////
Hornblower allowed Brown to hang up his coat before ordering him out, then sat in the chair and gazed about him. The cabin was rather larger than he had expected, and he was pleased to see that there was room enough to divide it into sleeping and daytime quarters. In the latter, where he sat, were two chairs and a trestle table; in the former, there was his cot and, he had been pleased to note, no guns, as the cabin was tidily fitted into the stern.. He had already examined for himself the quarters Bush had taken in stead of his rightful space and marginally satisfied himself that they were right enough; all the same, it was a handsome gesture for Bush to have made and Hornblower wished he could show his gratitude.
////
Then the ship heaved mightily as she came about. Hornblower cursed at the unexpected movement and grabbed hold of the table as he made to look out the windows that made up fully half the rear wall. The calm of earlier in the day had vanished and the evening had gone from sunset to black boiling dark. Clouds hung heavy and low as though they wanted to drop over the sea and extinguish the ships that bobbed helplessly upon it. Hornblower braced his feet more firmly as the ship heeled.
////
"Oh, God!" he cried aloud, less a blasphemy than a prayer torn from desperate lips, because now, inevitably, his stomach was roiling in sympathy with the wretched ship, and as he heard the creaking and groaning from above he felt his skin turn icy and sweat bead his forehead and neck. He knew without looking he must have gone an appalling light green. Then it was very nearly too late and he felt himself reel senselessly across the space to the captain's head, where he braced his forearms against the walls and vomited excruciatingly and repeatedly. His head was whirling; his knees were water; he scarcely heard the thunder overhead and he certainly did not hear Bush's bellowing voice or the clatter and patter of feet overhead as the ship rolled and tossed. Though he did not know it, after an eternity Brown took him by the shoulders and guided him to his cot. He was only dimly aware of being undressed and finally exhaustion had its way and he fell into a deep, if restless sleep.
//
"Five bells, my lord," Brown said, and Hornblower repressed a groan and the light on his face told him it was the gray of earliest morning. He suspected that at some point in that horrible night previous he had given orders to be called.
//
"Yes," he mumbled and sat up, rubbing his eyes. "Coffee."
//
"Here, my lord," and Brown was handing him a tin cup. Hornblower closed his barely opened eyes in pleasure with the first hot sweet mouthful.
//
"Breakfast, my lord?"
//
"A shave, first," said Hornblower. As his head cleared he realized that he was feeling much better. He could not have regained his sea legs so quickly. He breathed deeply. The sea was much calmer; both his stomach and his senses told him as much. "Then, my compliments to Mr. Bush, and I shall be up presently." The least courtesy he could pay him was to let him know before appearing suddenly on deck.
//
Brown laid out hot water and razor and towel, then left to give word. He reappeared before Hornblower had lathered up and said, "The captain's compliments, my lord, and the weather side of the deck is available for your convenience, my lord."
//
Hornblower paused, razor in hand. Why was Brown giving him his own compliments? Then he remembered. Bush was the captain and he, Hornblower, was commodore, and when he appeared on deck he would see his own pendant flapping.
//
"Very good," he said, calmly, as though he had expected no less. He continued to shave, appearing to concentrate entirely on the task, while in truth his mind whirled. Not only had Bush surrendered his cabin, but he had remembered the sacrosanct tradition of the hour's dawn walk – and had discommoded himself and his crew to provide it. Such was Bush's devotion and loyalty, which Hornblower was coming to realize Bush would never be able to bring himself to express in words. Hornblower was somewhat more eloquent than Bush, he knew, but in the whirl of his mind he could not offhand think of a way to thank Bush adequately.
//
Instead he dressed and went up on deck and began to pace as though he had known all along that he would do so. He walked steadily, feeling his sea legs return with every length, until the bell tinged seven times. Then he approached Bush, who stood at the rail on the lee side, and said, "Good morning, captain."
//
Bush's weathered face seamed with a smile at being so addressed. "Good morning, my lord."
//
Dammit, he needed to say something. Why was it so confoundedly difficult? "Thank you for the use of the deck."
//
"Oh, yes, my lord," Bush replied warmly. This was more loquaciousness than he had ever expected from his Delphic captain.
//
"And ... for the use of your cabin," Hornblower continued, now seemingly incapable of curbing his runaway tongue. "It is a most ... generous gesture."
//
"Thank'ee, my lord," Bush said, coming nearer to blushing than Hornblower had ever seen.
//
"I see she has weathered the storm," he continued desperately, seeking to at least change the subject.
//
"Yes, my lord," Bush said eagerly. "It was unexpected, my lord, but it was more noise than damage, my lord. The fleet's in good shape, my lord. We're making east nor'east, my lord."
//
It would be remarkable if they were making in any other direction, but Hornblower did not say so. It was far too easy to tease the earnest Bush. Instead, he reminded himself that Bush was the master of the ship and that returned the awkwardness to his voice as he said, "Might I prevail upon you to arrange a shower bath, captain?"
//
"Oh, yes, my lord," Bush said hastily, actually wincing at the realization that while he had anticipated one of his commodore's needs he had forgotten the corresponding one. The matter was soon arranged, however, and the crew that were not otherwise occupied gaped as they saw that the rumors about the legendary Horny were true, in this matter at least. Hornblower bathed quickly – the water was cold – and retired to the cabin, where Brown toweled him off and Hornblower dressed, ate his breakfast, and fell to contemplating the maps.
//
After two hours' silent study he felt almost ready for the captains of the fleet and came up on deck. "Might I trouble you to signal a meeting of the fleet in an hour's time, Captain Bush?" They spent the time in earnest conversation over the maps.
//
An hour later, he stood on deck beside Bush, enjoying the feel of a new full-dress uniform, and receiving salutes as the captains came aboard. Freeman of the Clam, with his dark gipsyish looks; old Dirksen of the Harvey. Then Nash, captain of the Sophia, a gray, grizzled and embittered officer who had only been given command of his first ship a year ago; Hawke of the Catherine, in contrast young and handsome. Last of all the captain of the Dumbarton swung aboard. Hornblower's face stiffened in surprise. He blinked rapidly and forced his jaw to remain firmly shut.
//
"A genuine pleasure to see you again, my lord," and there was no mistaking the light-hearted voice, the dancing blue eyes, now fanned with lines and set in a face a little fuller than he remembered, the red-blond hair beginning to be threaded with gray. Hornblower's mind whirled. He heard himself say, as if in a dream:
//
"Thank you for coming aboard, gentlemen. If you will follow me below?"
//
"Captain Bush," he thought to say, "would you be so good as to bring these gentlemen up to speed?" As Brown offered port, Hornblower sat back and watched Bush earnestly explaining to his brother captains the difficulties of keeping an eye on the coast around Malmo, where land was everywhere too close for comfort but where necessity perforce required their presence. He drew his whirling mind to an uneasy halt long enough to step in at the proper time..
//
"I myself will have some ... business ashore," he said, the pause making his meaning as clear as he intended it to be. He rose with the others and made his tone deliberately careless as he said, seemingly at the last moment, "Captain Kennedy, would you be good enough to give you a further moment of your time?"
//
"Of course, my lord," Kennedy said, seemingly enjoying Hornblower's obvious discomfort. Then they were alone and Hornblower drew a deep breath.
//
"I have not seen your name in the Gazette in some time," he said, groping for a way into the conversation. Then he clamped his mouth shut and thought himself a fool. But here was Kennedy seemingly not minding his faux pas at all.
////
"No," he said, deliberately lazily, "while in Tonnant in Panama, I was stricken with fever." That must have been about the time that Hornblower had first met Lady Barbara Wellesley, who had been contriving to escape the fever in Panama herself. "I was given a leave of absence, and at my father's insistence it was extended. My father had in mind that I should play the part of an earl's third son to see if I had developed a taste for it. When it became clear that I had not, he again, if reluctantly, exerted his influence and had me read back in. When St.. Vincent learned of it he was kind enough to give me the Dumbarton." Seeing Hornblower's puzzlement, he added, "And at my insistence, both my leave and return were not published in the Gazette. I saw no need." He made a face, once again the self-deprecating Archie of old. But now those clear blue eyes gazed frankly at Hornblower and there was no trace of panic, nervousness, or incompetence. Hornblower was adept at reading faces but could not penetrate the cool confidence he saw before him. It was an unaccustomed stance for the Archie he knew, which sharply brought to mind that this was not, in fact, the Archie he knew.
////
He smiled nervously and cleared his throat, the old habit coming to the fore. How Barbara would tease him! "Ha–h'm," he said. Why this damnable awkwardness? The logical portion of Hornblower's brain constructed a ready list of reasons. Years had passed, years in which Hornblower had thought of Kennedy less and less often and finally had forgotten him, bringing up a shame at his carelessness that made his cheeks burn. Meanwhile, while Hornblower had risen smartly – too smartly, perhaps – through the ranks and now, in fact, bore higher title both on land and at sea than did Kennedy, Kennedy was still the son of an earl. And in some curious way Hornblower found that he had expected Kennedy to still be in awe of Hornblower's skill and even a little resentful of it, as he had been in El Ferrol. That resentment had clearly vanished with the years and Hornblower to his guilty astonishment found, as he analyzed himself, that he had rather come to find some
pleasure in it even as he had been impatient with it in reality.
////
Archie, in the growing silence, similarly gazed at his old companion. His thoughts were less muddled but no less complicated. As desperately as he had once wanted to get away from the Indefatigable and away from sea, as much as he felt himself unsuited for the hard life of a naval officer, as frustrated as he had been that he could not simply leapfrog the chain of command by virtue of wealth and influence – once he had been deprived of the life at sea he had perversely found him wanting it more than all. True, he had enjoyed being able to visit the theater. But that had been the only comfort a life on land had offered. He had missed being at sea, had surprisingly found he missed the clear chain of command where merit played a role in advancement, had missed the closeness and camaraderie of serving on board a ship. He had found himself no more adept at taking up the role of third-son-of-an-earl than he ever had at taking up the role of a lieutenant. The fits had gone, it was true, but likely he would have outgrown them anyway. In the six months he had been in command of Dumbarton, he had been lucky enough to have an able and understanding first lieutenant and a sailing master who, while not the last word in friendliness, was at least competent and reasonably liked. He had actually survived giving orders in an unexpected skirmish that had netted him a prize, if a modest one, and was slowly, slowly, beginning to feel less of a farce at being in command.
////
How had it come about? The change still bewildered him. At Muzillac he had panicked, unforgivably. But he had also saved Horatio's life, the small voice reminded him. It was the voice he was able to hear for the first time in El Ferrol – not in El Ferrol, exactly, but rather in the jolly boat going back to El Ferrol – going back by choice to that stinking, life-draining hellhole because Horatio Hornblower had given his parole and Kennedy would follow Hornblower if he were leading a two-man charge against Cerberus and all the shades of Hades. The small voice, to which he had increasingly allowed himself to listen, succeeded in quashing the more querulous tones of the voice that usually held sway in his head, the voice that sneered at him for clinging to the coat tails of the dashing, noble, honorable, almost inhuman Hornblower.
////
And, he had had to admit, the time away from the Navy had done him good – in the negative sense. Distance had allowed him to realize how fitted he had become to that peculiar sort of life, and how incomplete he was without it. More, it had allowed him to miss Horatio properly. To miss him in a way he had not missed him since those escape attempts – attempts, he had told himself bitterly, that would have been successful with Horatio to hand; but even then the bitterness of old had lost its tang, like trying to drink the dregs from a wineglass emptied long ago. Something indefinable had washed over him in that jolly boat on the way back to El Ferrol; something cruel and forceful had finally lost its deathly grip on his mind.
////
There was something else as well. There was something that had changed, indefinably but permanently, at El Ferrol – before regaining the Indefatigable and before that inexplicable return that was eminently bearable because it was Horatio's idea. After Hunter had foolishly attempted escape, after he found himself caring for Hunter's leg – because that's what Horatio would have done – after Horatio had jabbed a finger into his chest and stood firm in his determination not to leave him behind, something had come. Somewhere in that deep and grinding self-loathing that was only intensified by knowing that a man like Hornblower called him friend – somewhere in there had come a moment of blinding clarity. If Hornblower was giving him attention and devotion, then something in him must be deserving of it, because Kennedy knew enough to know that Hornblower did not give his devotion carelessly. And when Kennedy had actually been able to give Hornblower information – that the "Duchess of Wharfedale" was no duchess – it had solidified that tiny flicker of hope within him.
////
That and the inevitable wearing away of edges for which time possesses a singular talent had mellowed the deep friendship between the two – mellowed it yet preserved it, like the best wines – until it had been instantly and deeply revitalized by the sight of Hornblower again after nearly eight years. Eight years! Good God. Horatio looked – damnably unchanged. Oh, there was a fan of fine lines around those large fawnlike eyes, and corresponding curves around the mouth that hinted that Horatio smiled at least as often as he frowned. Archie knew – his mirror told him – that he himself had similar lines. And that tumble of dark hair – was Horatio's forehead a trifle higher, perhaps? – Archie was shocked to see threads of silver in it, though he knew his own fair hair was beginning to fade to ash. More, the man had kept himself infuriatingly fit. No longer gangly and coltish, he was broad-shouldered, well-muscled – he had removed his jacket – and still slender, though Archie, narrowing his eyes, almost convinced himself of some slight evidence of strain through the waistcoat. Then he shook his head and blinked, realizing that he had been staring at Horatio for an unconscionably long time. And blinked as he also realized that Horatio had been staring right back at him.
//
"Well?" Archie said teasingly. "Do I look as you remember?"
//
There was that famous, if endangered, species, Horatio's broad triangular grin. "You do, Captain Kennedy," Horatio said with a flourish of formality. He made a point of looking Archie over. "You have always graced the uniform well."
//
"A little fatter now," Archie confessed, ruefully patting his own waistcoat. "But you still look in fighting trim."
//
"You are kind not to mention the undignified retreat of my hairline," Horatio said, unconsciously ruffling his curls. "It will not hold the beachhead regardless of my orders."
//
He leaned back in his chair and swirled the port in his glass. It was still half-full where Archie's was nearly empty. That's unchanged, Archie thought, and Horatio blinked and leaned forward to refill Archie's glass. "Come, come, Captain," he chided. "We cannot allow your glass to stand empty. Poor form indeed."
//
"Indeed, Commodore Hornblower," Archie said pompously. "I shall report your inhospitality to the Admiralty."
//
Now they were both standing and Horatio's face was solemn. "Archie. My friend," he said softly. "Will you forgive me?"
//
How much port had Archie drunk? "Forgive you?"
//
"Aye, forgive me," Horatio said softly. "I never meant to hold my ... good fortune over you."
//
Archie found there was a hard lump in his throat. "It is I who must ask forgiveness for my stubborn pride."
//
"Perhaps we can offer each other absolution, then," Horatio was saying. "For I very much fear that this pleasant reunion must soon end. You have a ship to command, and we have our orders."
//
Kennedy drew himself up, almost ready to be offended, but then he saw the twinkle in Horatio's eye. "Aye, aye, my lord," he said, making his town as fulsome as he could, and managing a salute, before half-collapsing with a stifled snicker. Then Kennedy was up the hatchway and gone, and Hornblower was easing off his shoes. He was exhausted beyond all reason, and his head whirled, and he felt sure he was not entirely over his seasickness. Perhaps a nap, he thought, groaning aloud at the remembrance that he would be dining with Bush that night. His stomach lurched at the thought of food.
//
He had meant to simply lie at ease, and not really sleep, but the cabin seemed unforgivably warm, so he stripped to his breeches and lay on his cot, forgoing a blanket. His head swam – seasickness or the port he had scarcely tasted? – then darkness swirled up and he slept.
//
When Brown roused him, it was with some difficulty. “My lord,” he said gently, “you will dine with the captain in an hour’s time.”
//
Hornblower only just stopped himself from repeating stupidly, “An hour?” Instead he sat up. The quality of the light answered his question and saved him from embarrassment. It must now be nearly four o’clock in the afternoon. Though light-headed -- from hunger, perhaps -- he felt curiously refreshed. He was able to stand and request hot water and wait until Brown had withdrawn before giving vent to a long and deeply satisfying stretch. Then he shaved and dressed, and waited with some impatience for Bush.
//
The dinner was delicious and the conversation less awkward than Hornblower had feared. The evening progressed naturally and Bush seemed to be positively enjoying himself, a feat Hornblower doubted he had seen of his captain and friend at a dinner. Something about having been entrusted with a sea command despite his wooden leg had apparently done Bush a world of good.
//
More, as Hornblower was able to observe, he handled the ship as deftly as he might wish, and took advantage of the one broad stretch of sea in the voyage to exercise the crews at sails and at guns, looking not displeased at the results. Hornblower could not help recalling the exercise at the guns he and Bush had undertaken on the Renown that had, incredibly, ended with the two of them being put under arrest along with Kennedy. He shook his head impatiently. Was he now of the age where all his thoughts were of the past? This would never do. Then he frowned at the horizon. Surely he was seeing things.
//
“Sail to leeward! Sail to leeward!” The midshipman’s voice had not quite broken and the excited call ended in a screech.
//
“Steady there, Mr. Pollard,” Bush bellowed calmly. “What do you make of her?”
//
“French colors, sir!”
//
Hornblower’s stomach flopped and his pulses began to race. A French ship off the coast of Denamrk? This boded very ill indeed. With the pace of communications, he might well be headed toward Sweden on a fool’s errand, and England would look very foolish if Sweden had already chosen an alliance. His mixture of emotions distilled into pure fury, and he had to bite down hard on his lip to keep from barking commands. Luckily as soon as a thought came into his head it was on Bush’s lips; Bush was issuing the orders that he himself would order.
//
“Hard a-starboard!”
//
“Hard a-starboard it is, sir,” came the call from the wheel, and the Porta Coeli, deft as promised, answered with gratifying swiftness.
//
“She’s a brig, sir!” The call came from the top with obvious relief in the lad’s voice. With luck they would not be too badly outgunned. Then: “Two brigs, sir. And … a frigate, sir!” The boy’s voice cracked with fear and excitement. “We’re surrounded, sir!” It was a nervous exaggeration. He’d clearly forgotten the presence of five other ships … no, four, since Clam had unaccountably sprung a leak and been forced to make port at Blackpool.
//
Hell. “Signal the other ships at once,” Bush bellowed at the flag lieutenant, who unluckily was standing only inches away from Bush. He managed not to flinch at the volume.
//
“Engage at will.” He wheeled and gazed at the brig, flanked by the other brig and the frigate. Why were they out of formation?
//
“Let her advance. Keep her steady,” Bush replied; then, “Hands to quarters.”
//
“Hands to quarters, hands to quarters!” A dozen voices carried the message through the ship. At last Hornblower could stand it no longer.
//
“Captain Bush, how might I serve you, sir?” he asked with the utmost politeness, hoping to keep the tremble of excitement from his voice as his pulses raced and his sinews trembled with the old familiar feeling.
//
“This’ll be some tricky sailing, my lord,” Bush replied, his eyes still on the French brig. “If you could oversee the guns, that would leave me to the sheets.”
//
“Aye, aye,” Hornblower replied without a trace of irony and with glad relief clattered below.
//
“Not yet,” he counseled a rather overeager midshipman. “Not yet. We’re not quite in range.” He heard Bush’s bellowed voice and felt the ship pick up speed. As yet none of the other ships in the convoy had fired.
//
“Not yet. Not yet.” He heard the creaking as the reefed sails were opened swiftly to the southerly wind. Good! Impeccably timed, that wind.
//
“Aim her a trifle higher, Mr. Goodwin,” he said quietly. Goodwin, though overawed by the Presence at his elbow, nevertheless calmly obeyed.
//
“Fire.”
//
The shot was not a bad one, but it only nicked her rail and did little other visible damage. Then came the second crack and her mainmast splintered, the enormous white swath of canvas buckling as if in embarrassment. The French brig heeled sharply, caught unawares, and only with slow painfulness righted itself. Then another shot, on the heels of the second one, took out her topmast. The tricolor was swiftly hauled down. Hornblower looked with some astonishment at the midshipman at his elbow.
//
“Mr. Goodwin,” he said calmly, “how many shots did you fire?”
//
“One, my lord,” the boy replied. “The other shots must have come from the convoy.”
//
Hornblower ventured a gaze out the gun port. There! That was unmistakably the Dumbarton preparing to board the crippled French brig. Hornblower quashed the excitement in the lad’s voice by saying dryly, “I suggest you reload, Mr. Goodwin. There are two other French ships in sight.”
//
Hornblower could recall little of what happened next; he knew clarity would come later when he had to write his report and his mind’s eye would spool back to him the scene that he was now too overwhelmed to take in. The French ships did swift and fatal damage to the Sophia and the Catherine was diverted to take on her survivors; so then it was down to the Porta Coeli and the Dumbarton against the French frigate and the remaining brig. A slightly more even battle.
//
“Hard-a-lee!” Bush’s voice roared from above decks and the Porta Coeli -- thank God she was as deft as advertised -- swung sharply round. Only by instinctively bracing himself did Hornblower avoid the almighty embarrassment of falling sideways onto the young Mr. Goodwin.
//
There. The second brig was in their sights. Where the hell was the frigate?
//
“First guns, fire!” Hornblower roared, and a blast rocked the damned French ship, knocking a great beautiful hole into her starboard side -- above the waterline, blast it. Still, it was lovely to see her rock with the impact, and at the same time, a blast farther away nicked her mainmast. Good! That can’t have been the Dumbarton. But it could only have come from the Dumbarton. Time was telescoping in the curious fashion that it always did in battle, both slowing down and speeding up. Only someone of Kennedy’s skill with gunnery could have timed and placed that shot so perfectly to align with the French ship shuddering from the impact of the Porta Coeli’s guns. Kennedy must have turned the French brig over to a lieutenant and got back to the Dumbarton, where undoubtedly he was commanding the guns.
//
The guns! Hornblower inhaled sharply, furious at his own lapse. “Alternate guns, fire!” he bellowed, and another blast knocked another hole, this time right onto the deck as the brig swayed, its sail askew and the whole ship heeling to larboard. There! Had he imagined it?
//
“She’s hauling down her colors, sir!” By George, that boy had promise as a sailing master, Hornblower thought, particularly once his voice changed. The bellow from the fighting top had been clear enough for him to hear in the gundecks.
//
“Gunners, stand by,” Hornblower said briefly, then clattered up onto the main deck and paused to look around.
//
“Extraordinary seamanship, sir,” he said to Bush, who was looking exhausted but pleased, head-to-toe soot from the smoke and the haze.
//
“Extraordinary gunnery, my lord,” Bush returned, then snapped, “Mr. Everston, sir. Take six men, board her, and take her into any English port you can make.”
//
“Aye, aye, sir!”
//
“My lord,” Bush said then, “The Dumbarton’s crew has the first brig, and we have the second. But the frigate, my lord.”
//
It all happened at once.
//
The haze began to clear. Both men saw the Revanche, saw the gun ports open against the Porta Coeli’s leeward side, then a great blast of hot, foul wind seemed to knock Hornblower to the deck. He felt his head strike something hard.
//
For the rest, he would learn only slowly, in fragments, how the Revanche had taken advantage of the smoke and closed in on the Porta Coeli; how she had fired a broadside at her that had splintered her railings and holed the mainsail; how the Dumbarton had taken advantage of the same fog to come up on the Revanche’s own leeward side and play the same trick at the same time, so that while the Porta Coeli was wounded, the lurching impact of the French frigate’s shots, pulling her off balance, made the similar broadside from the Dumbarton tell more vividly against the Revanche; how the Revanche had slowly toppled, unable to right herself; how Hornblower had been grazed by a shot that had opened a gaping wound in his right side and knocked him to the deck, concussing him.
//
The darkness, when it abated, did so with agonizing slowness. He heard a jumble of voices and felt light playing on his face before he saw anything. When he did, it was as the blind beggar healed in the Gospel of Matthew, where at first he saw men who looked like trees walking, indefinable great shapes looming over him.
//
He blinked with all his concentration and effort, and the trees clarified themselves. In his -- Bush’s -- cabin, the doctor leaned against the corner; Bush himself sat wearily in a chair, the curtain into his day-cabin having been pulled back; and there was Kennedy, captain of the Dumbarton, sitting on the trestle table, swinging his legs with the same irreverence that would attend him whether he was 20 or 40.
//
“Awake, my lord.” Hornblower heard the relief in Bush’s voice. “Thank God, sir.”
//
“The battle … the men … the ships….” Hornblower’s mind was an aching, whirling jumble, still seemingly blurred with the haze and smoke of the guns. He could not fix his mind on any thing, not yet.
//
Bush took a deep breath. “There were some casualties, sir. But all went as well as could be expected.”
//
“No, Captain Bush,” Hornblower heard himself say tiredly, thickly. “When five engage three, the side with the majority should not lose any ships.” He did not allow himself to add, “nor any men.” The butcher’s bill came to all in turn.
//
“The Sophia was holed fatally, sir,” Bush admitted. His face suffused with anger at the recollection. “Both French brigs trapped her and fired on her at once.”
//
“Then we could do nothing,” Hornblower admitted. God, he was weary. A tiny relentless blacksmith seemed to have set up an anvil within his forehead and was forging hot nails and driving them into his temples. He tried to raise a hand to his brow, but a sharp swath of pain stopped him.
//
“Don’t move, my lord.” The surgeon’s voice was sharp with anxiety.
//
“Dr. Hildebrand,” Hornblower said thickly, “tend to the others.”
//
“But, my lord….”
//
“Go,” Hornblower forced out between gritted teeth as another wave of pain swept over him and nausea surged.
//
The doctor cast a helpless pleading glance at Bush, who nodded, and left. Some of the stink of blood and battle left the room with him.
//
“Sleep, my lord, please.” Now Brown was at his head and laying a delightfully cool cloth upon his forehead, smothering the blacksmith’s forge, quietening the hammer and nails. The cot spun round and darkness enveloped Hornblower like a cloak.
//
In the quarters Bush had claimed, he and Kennedy sat nursing port and talking quietly.
//
“A sight different from the Renown,” Kennedy ventured quietly. He did not meet Bush’s eyes.
//
“Yes, Captain Kennedy,” Bush agreed. With his gaze he forced the younger man’s blue eyes to meet his own gaze. “Thank God of that, sir.. I shudder to think how high the cost had someone else been in command.” Then he blushed and looked away, having paid himself all unintended a compliment. Kennedy, however, neatly caught the gaffe and quickly said, “Your seamanship is superb, sir.”
//
“As is yours, Captain Kennedy.”
//
Unable to restrain himself, Kennedy laughed, a release of tension. “Look, sir, I beg of you to call me Archie. The only other man I jumped off a cliff with does the same.”
//
“Only if you will address me as William,” Bush returned. Then without speaking they rose and turned to check on Hornblower. He was sleeping, if restlessly; the wound had raised a fever.
//
“If you please, Captain.” Brown was at Bush’s elbow with a basin of cool water and a sponge.
//
“Very well, Brown,” Bush said, exhaustion lacing his voice. “See to him.”
//
“Aye, aye, sir.”
//
It would be three days before Hornblower would fully awaken, by which time the damage had been assessed and the mess sorted out. The Dumbarton and the Porta Coeli were safely in the harbor at Malmo, which, tiny as it was, was still, it seemed, officially neutral and offered much-needed shelter. The Catherine was being repaired and would rejoin the fleet as soon as she was able. A dispatch waiting for Hornblower at Malmo informed him that the Clam had been repaired and was even now sailing to rejoin the fleet. Things were not as bad as they might be, Bush thought, gazing toward the port as the rising sun warmed his back slightly.
////
He became aware of a slight sound, an irregular scuffling scrape that grew closer, but modeling his behavior on what he thought Hornblower’s might be, he forced himself to remain rigid and wait until the sound revealed itself. To his great surprise, Hornblower himself drew alongside him and gripped the rail with his right hand. His left arm was still bound to his side, mending his wounded shoulder; his face was unhealthily pale and great shadows ringed his eyes; he looked rumpled and unrested; and that wound in his side must be causing him enormous pain with every audible intake of breath. But he was upright, thank God, and did not appear feverish. He had dressed himself -- no, he had surely had help -- in a shirt, breeches, stockings, and shoes, though understandably he had forgone the additional pressure that wearing a waistcoat and coat would have given his torso.
//
“Good morning, Captain Bush,” Hornblower said, his voice low and a trifle unsteady.
//
“My lord.” Bush touched a salute. “Are you sure you should be out of bed, my lord?”
//
Horatio bit his tongue; first, to keep from imploring Bush to call him Horatio. Much as he wished it, it could not be permitted, at least while above decks; and second, to keep from snapping at Bush for his impertinence. Bush meant well, and the inquiry was a legitimate one: if Hornblower was unfit for duty, it would shift responsibilities all round the fleet.
//
“I am fit to return to duty, thank you, sir.”
////
He could not, and did not, add that his head still felt damnably light whenever he was upright; that his side ached abominably; that he still had headaches and his vision was not yet entirely clear. He had enough of his wits about him to meet with the King of Sweden and the Admiral -- what was his name? -- Ehrenstrom. He hoped that the concussion had not quite driven out of him his hasty study of Swedish. He still would take his interpreter with him, but with luck he would at least be able to greet Ehrenstrom, whose title it had taken him two full days to learn to pronounce, Marininspektören, which clearly translated to “marine inspector” and which translated in rank to that of a rear admiral, which meant that Ehrenstrom outranked him. He would have to be cautious, although the recent battle might give him leverage, if he could learn what circumstance allowed two French brigs and the Revanche to be in waters so close to Sweden’s. Ehrenstrom’s flagship was the “kungliga flottan” HMS Vasa, named in memory of a 17th-century vessel that had been the pride of the early Swedish navy. God, his head ached. The light seemed unbearably bright, and Hornblower unconsciously squinted and gripped the rail tighter.
////
“My lord!” Bush was at his elbow, carefully putting a light touch on his right, uninjured, arm..
//
Hornblower drew a deep, if shaky, breath. “It’s nothing, Captain, I assure you,” he lied. “I shall go and have some coffee, as I find myself with an appetite this morning.” He tried to grin, aware that the smile was shaky and lopsided. He went below and actually managed to keep down two cups of coffee and some biscuit. He thought about paying a call on the captain of the Dumbarton and then remembered with real pleasure that it was by virtue of his rank that he might signal the Dumbarton and have Kennedy come to him.
//
Accordingly, in an hour’s time, Kennedy was piped aboard.
//
“Archie.” Hornblower caught the surge of pleasure he felt at seeing his friend’s face again. Might they truly regain the friendship forged in youth, naivete, and the worst of battles, assignments, and imprisonment? Archie’s face also showed relief at finding Hornblower well and upright.
//
Hornblower started on safe ground. “Your tactics, as always, were remarkable, Captain Kennedy,” he said. “Astonishing gunnery, impeccable timing, I might even venture to call your assistance divine presence.”
//
Now Archie did laugh. “How hard did you hit your head, H’ratio?” There it was, that breezy unique pronunciation that no one else managed and that brought back a flood of memories.
//
“Not so hard as to have forgotten the Dumbarton’s remarkable tactics.”
//
“I didn’t panic, H’ratio.”
//
Good heavens, was Archie still bedeviling himself about that business at Muzillac? Horatio all but rolled his eyes, but his own cross-grained self-evaluation reminded him relentlessly that occasional nightmares and brooding moments caught him sunk into guilt about his own role in Muzillac and the death of Mariette, one of the few deaths of the many he had encountered that simply would not leave him. It was not that she haunted him so much as he haunted himself.
//
“No, Archie,” he said. “You didn’t panic.” He braced himself for the anticipated pain as a brief spasm of coughing gripped him, then relaxed. “Far from it. Your seamanship was beyond inspired. I shall commend you to the Admiralty in the strongest possible terms, sir.” His eyes twinkled. “Might I even say, ‘There is a tide in the affairs of men’?”
//
Archie’s blue eyes widened. “H’ratio. Don’t tell me you have finally discovered Shakespeare?”
//
“Discovered might be too strong a word, Archie. But I find that the older I get, the more the Bard rings true.”
//
The forenoon spun away as Archie and Horatio tentatively rediscovered their comfortable ground and fell into the foundation of the friendship forged amid the torture of Justinian, the hell of the Renown, the stinking oubliette of El Ferrol. “Nothing of him remains, but doth suffer a sea-change, into something rich and strange.” They were not the youths they had been; Hornblower’s gravity and introspection had understandably deepened and Kennedy’s light-heartedness had been tempered but the rediscovered companionship and camaraderie were all the richer for the time that had spun away.
//// //// //// ////
Hornblower stood as straight as his injuries would allow and offered his best salute to the man opposite. Ehrenstrom was at least fifteen years his senior, tall and lean with broad shoulders and a fair Nordic face weathered and pitted from years at sea, keen blue-gray eyes the color of the waters he watched over, and fading blond hair thinning at the crown. Hornblower carefully rolled his tongue round the unfamiliar words.
//
“God efter middag, min herre. Jag tack sjalv for gav Jag nagot om din tid. I er ivrig efter a gora finna hur vi makt bidra med till stabiliteten av Europa.” There. Please God he had gotten it right: “Good afternoon, sir. I thank you for giving me some of your time. I am eager to learn how we might contribute to the stability of Europe.”
//
“God efter middag, min herre. Be bli satte.” Ehrenstrom’s gesture with the words mitigated the need to translate and Hornblower gratefully sat, managing not to wince. After that the translator was needed. Ehrenstrom inquired after his wounds, which allowed Hornblower to say with diplomacy yet the most careful inflection he could find that two French brigs and a frigate had fired on his convoy without warning. Ehrenstrom displayed shock and dismay.
//
“Jag forsakra du, min herre, de hade inte min samtycke. Bonaparte förvirra min kust.”
//
Hornblower leaned forward, heedless of displaying too much interest; he had heard the name Bonaparte and was impatient. His translator murmured, “I assure you, sir, they did not have my … permission … Bonaparte … confounds my coast.”
////
There was his opening. If he was lucky he would be finished with this business in weeks, not months. He must carefully guide his diplomacy into this unexpected doorway. Ehrenstrom was unhappy with Bonaparte and likely feeling a trifle cuckolded at not having control of his own coast. Hornblower took a moment to marshal his thoughts and turned to the interpreter. Least said soonest mended, perhaps, at least at the beginning.
//
“Most frustrating, sir,” Hornblower agreed. Then he sat back, trying doggedly to ignore the throbbing in his temples.
//
“And most infuriating,” Ehrenstrom added, “that you yourself should have been wounded in the encounter, Commodore Ehrenbloor.” Amazing! There was actually a tongue that mangled his name more curiously than the French and Spanish. He had become actually accustomed to hearing the clipped “Orrenbloer” of the Frogs and the “Hhhorrneblora” of the Dons. This was a new one. He had to school his face not to smile broadly at the ridiculousness of it.
//
As Hornblower could have predicted, despite the opening of the action with the French, the afternoon progressed with a slowness he would have found frustrating had he not become increasingly accustomed to the pace of diplomacy. He counseled himself to patience, schooled his face to impassivity, and managed not to wince whenever his shoulder, side, or other parts sent out jabs of pain. Late in the meeting, Ehrenstrom signaled unobtrusively to a hovering servant and a tray appeared bearing tiny glasses of a clear liquor that looked like the vodka he had tasted in Russia.
//
Following his host’s lead, he tossed the mouthful down in one swallow, only just managing not to gasp at the unexpected bite. The drink seemed to be related to vodka but was much more potent and for a moment he was unable to breathe. He felt tears prickle his eyes and his head begin to whirl. When he regained himself, he realized that he would have to return a toast and so would perforce have to drink at least one more of those. Out of the jumble of his brain, he miraculously found the right words, at least he hoped they were the right words.
//
“Till hans storslagenhet kungen av Sverige,” he said, already hearing his tongue thicken as he toasted His Majesty the King of Sweden.
//
Then at last the meeting was over and Hornblower was able to stand and navigate his way out of the palace. The brief trip back to the Porta Coeli was agony. The waters were choppy; his aching head throbbed and spun with the effects of the powerful liquor; it was late in the afternoon and predictably his shoulder and torso had begun to hurt worse from the weariness of the day. In a moment of clarity he saw himself potentially missing the ladder and falling into the gray water. What embarrassment! He would never live it down.
//
Somehow -- afterward he would not remember how -- he managed to achieve the ship again. Somehow he stumbled to the cabin. He dimly remembered taking off his shoes. After that his quarters seemed impossibly hot, unbearably hot, so that the sweat streamed and he tossed restlessly in his cot, heedless of the pain he was causing himself. His stomach heaved and he retched pitifully into a bucket that someone -- Brown? -- held to him. Then he was eased back down and a blessedly cool cloth laid on his forehead. Someone held his nose and something awful was poured down his throat and the darkness closed in upon him again.
//
It was noon before he awoke. Pale Nordic sunlight streamed into the cabin and he heard eight bells being rung. A gentle knock on the door..
//
“Come,” he croaked, and Bush’s lined face, pale with worry, peeped round the door. Relieved at seeing his commodore awake, he came all the way in and cautiously sat on the chair.
//
“How do you fare, my lord?”
//
“I am well.” It was not entirely untrue. A long rest had allowed his head to clear, his aches to subside, and for recovery from the exertion of travel and diplomacy so soon after a concussion.
//
“My lord….” Bush’s honest face was as easy to read as a book. He wished he could tell Hornblower to give himself time to recover before continuing negotiations, but he knew that it would be crossing the mark and he could not, would not bring himself to overstep that line. Hornblower found himself suppressing a chuckle as he watched duty war with something more elusive, less clear, and ultimately more valuable -- friendship. Ultimately duty won out and Bush clamped his mouth shut.
//
“I am recovered, Captain Bush,” Hornblower said, hoarsely. “So long as my duties do not require too many such events too often, I am fit to carry out my duties.”
//
“Aye, aye, my lord,” Bush said. He hesitated visibly. “With you permission, my lord, I thought I might invite Captain Kennedy aboard and to … perhaps … join you in your quarters at dinner.”
//
It was irregular, of course; invalids were tended to in sick bay or in their quarters; and surely Hornblower could not be expected to preside as the host of a dinner that, in any case, should be hosted by Bush.
//
“Not a formal dinner, my lord,” Bush hastened to assure Hornblower. “More a gathering of old friends.”
//
Hornblower had fretted all that afternoon about whether the three of them would be able to regain a friendship that had pulled apart and re-formed so often and under so many circumstances. They had the unity of having survived the Renown and the jump of the cliff; Hornblower and Kennedy had survived Justinian and El Ferrol; Hornblower and Bush had together escaped a French prison, with Bush minus a leg, survived the winter at the de Gracay villa, and captured the Witch of Endor. Bush had risen slowly but steadily through the ranks; Hornblower’s rise had also been steady, if a trifle swifter; but Kennedy had had that gap in his service and the Dumbarton was his first ship as captain. On the other hand, he had only just shown his invaluable presence as a fearless, risk-taking commander with a brilliant head for gunnery. Somehow in their time apart, Kennedy had found himself. Gunnery, as Hornblower had suspected, had given himself the foundation he needed.
//
And so it turned out, once they had gotten past their mutual initial shyness, that their common experiences and the recent shared battle formed a bond that little could undo; and soon the conversation flowed easily and readily, sentences trailing off half-finished because the other two finished it for the speaker, the smiles of reminiscence, the laughter that Hornblower kept having to stifle to save his ribs; and the evening would have gone on longer had not Brown gotten Hornblower to admit to his weariness and ushered the other two out.
//
Then while Hornblower slept, a deep healthy sleep born of weariness, Kennedy and Bush repaired to Bush’s cabin and talked late into the night.
//
“He’s so … buttoned-up.”
//
Bush did not bother to stifle his snort of laughter. “He can be read, of course.” The sentence carried a hint of filial one-upping, a subtle reminder that Bush had spent time with Hornblower more recently and that Kennedy had only recently rejoined the fleet.
//
The old Kennedy would have snapped at such bait. Now, however, he only said, “Yes.”
//
“Stubborn,” Bush added.
//
“The best ones always are.”
//
“Remember the cliff?” Bush was making amends.
//
Kennedy laughed.. “Easier than eating turnips, Mr. Bush,” he said. “You couldn’t swim, H’ratio is afraid of heights….” whether he intended it or not, there was a gentle thrust in his statement. He, Kennedy, had bravely and instinctively jumped with a man afraid of heights and another who couldn’t swim.
//
“You know, I’ve still never learned -- Archie.”
//
“I’m not overfond of turnips myself, William.”
//
A pause.
//
“Nevertheless, I would jump off a cliff anytime for him.”
//
“So would I.”
//
They exchanged glances. “He drives himself so hard,” Kennedy said, shaking his head. “It’s enough to make one want to knock the Swedes’ heads together.”
//
“You know we can’t do that,” Bush said dryly.
//
“I know, I know. But diplomacy is hardly my suit..”
//
“Gunnery, on the other hand, clearly is,” Bush said. “I am long overdue, Archie, in congratulating you on your fantastic timing and beautifully placed shots. You deserve much commendation, sir.”
//
Kennedy looked down at his hands. “Luck,” he said lightly.
//
“The lucky man is he who knows how much to leave to chance,” Bush said gravely, quoting his commodore, who had been quoting his wife.
//
There would always be the tension of unspoken and unacknowledged jealousy between them in peace and in privacy, when both men fiercely valued their friendship with a man who did not make friends easily. That tension vanished in battle, to be replaced with the solid foundation of knowledge that each of the men, Bush and Kennedy, could rely implicitly on the other man’s cool head and brilliant tactics and unalloyed courage, a courage nourished by the leadership of their commodore. But at least they could converse. At least their manners could compel them to amicability.
//// //// //// //// ////
The diplomacy with Sweden continued at a pace that would have maddened Hornblower had he not still been somewhat convalescent. He began to think that something would have to give, but he was under strict orders not to provoke. It infuriated him the way Sweden kept trying to hang on to the friendship and benefits of England while reaching out to Boney, to see which would prove the more valuable; and it began to remind him of nothing so much than a man trapped between a shore boat and the pier, one foot tentatively balanced on each, legs stretching for all their worth. Ultimately one of three things would have to happen: with a burst of courage the man would leap for the pier; he would fall back into the boat; or, more likely, his legs would at last give way and he would plunge ignominiously into the water, gaining nothing and losing everything. The longer Sweden balanced the more likely the plunge; except in this equation, while England was the pier and
Bonaparte the boat, Hornblower could not figure what might be the equivalent of falling into the water.
////
If Boney attacked, England would be forced to ally itself with a quivering, pale ally that would sap her resources and provide little in return; and then Bonaparte would be poised to gain Denmark and, too soon, would be on England’s shores. He must make Sweden declare, openly, for England.
//
Then Boney blinked.
//
A skirmish, a small one, off the coast north of Stockholm. A French ship had attacked, all unprovoked, a Swedish one.
//
Hornblower, upon hearing the news, had felt his shoulders sag in relief. Together with the battle in which the Porta Coeli had engaged, Sweden would at last have no choice. Then his gut tightened. Sweden would at last have no choice, and England would be yoked to what Hornblower saw as a dithering ally.
//
His first instinct proved correct. From diplomacy Hornblower and his fleet were shot perforce into pitched battles, on land and at sea, and as Hornblower saw it they might as well have been fighting Boney alone, for all the assistance Sweden mustered. While her leadership had been dithering, the military forces had been idle and were unready when the fighting came. They scrambled now, too late, and countless men died as a result.
//
One of them was very nearly Hornblower. He had been on deck with Bush in the early morning fog when a French frigate had come up on her and fired, with brutal swiftness. The Porta Coeli and Dumbarton had answered quickly and with better training, and the frigate had ultimately been taken, but not without cost. Fourteen men on the Porta Coeli had been killed, seventeen on the Dumbarton, and among the badly wounded was the commodore. The news went swiftly round the fleet and was dispiriting to the English, frustrating to the Swedish, and cheering to the French. Rumors flew round that Hornblower was dead.
//
He was not dead -- not yet -- but there was a full week in which no one could have predicted one way or another. The King of Sweden had sent his own doctor on board to tend to the distinguished ally, and with assistance from the interpreter and the disgruntled ship’s doctor, the royal surgeon had painstakingly removed gunshot from the commodore’s shoulder and thigh. Hornblower, characteristically, had refused laudanum, but had mercifully lost consciousness from the pain once the gunshot in the shoulder had been removed.
//
There followed a spirited discussion among really too many participants as to whether the leg needed amputation. The Swedish doctor, favoring caution, argued that amputation would be the safest course. The ship’s doctor and Bush, knowing Hornblower, argued strenuously that the surgery could at least wait while circumstances dictated how the leg would heal. Bush had on his side his own wooden leg and the knowledge, which he did not share with the Swedish doctor, that while he himself had adjusted himself to being a cripple, proud and dutiful Hornblower would immediately be plunged into a gloom and self-mockery from which no one, not even his wife, would be able to rescue him.
//
At last the Swedish doctor grudgingly admitted that they could afford to wait a few days. “Den er din ansvaret om han dor,” he said dryly as he left. Bush and the ship’s doctor rounded on the interpreter, who paled.
//
“He said … he said … he said it’s our re-re-responsibility if he d-dies, sir,” the interpreter stammered out, gazing steadily at the floor.
//
“Yes, it is,” Bush said steadily, and sank slowly into the chair, his own gaze fixed on Hornblower. He expected it would be some time before he would willingly quit the chair.
//
The Swedish doctor had done his work admirably. It was little short of miraculous that he had successfully extracted the bullets, and the wounds were healing cleanly, but then Hornblower contracted a fever, which quickly soared and which stayed dangerously high. Bush watched long hours from the uncomfortable chair, catching sleep in snatches, waking disoriented and then finding his gaze on his commodore and friend, tossing and sweating in his cot.
//
Brown entered unobtrusively and laid a cold compress on Hornblower’s forehead. That done, he sponged Hornblower’s arms and legs. Hornblower shivered, his eyes fluttering, and Brown gently tucked the blanket around him. Hornblower sighed deeply, almost a moan, and then subsided fitfully into sleep.
//
As Brown exited, he admitted the sound of someone being piped aboard. Damnation. With a groan of equal parts frustration and stiffness, he rose and ascended the hatchway. It was Kennedy. Bush wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or jealous. Both emotions were off kilter, he told himself, but he couldn’t stop the warmth he felt kindling in his eyes at the sight of Kennedy’s boyishly open face.
//
“Come aboard, Captain Kennedy.”
//
“Thank you, Captain Bush.”
//
No sooner were they in the improvised sickroom than the formality was shed.
//
“How is …”
//
“One hopes…”
//
They both spoke together, then stopped, embarrassed. In silence, then, they looked at Hornblower. There was a palpable hesitation before Kennedy stepped back, silently inviting Bush to take the lead. There was a less palpable hesitation before Bush stepped up and laid a hand on Hornblower’s forehead.
//
“It’s cooled,” Bush announced, the relief flooding his voice. “Thank God, sir. He might yet heal.”
//
“I see you’ve persuaded that impetuous Swede not to help himself to…” Kennedy stopped, a blush flooding his face, and his gaze dropped implacably to Bush’s shins.
//
“To his leg, Archie. Yes, so far.. And now that the fever’s appearing to ease…”
//
“What’s wrong with your leg, William?” The source of the words was so unexpected that Bush started. Then he leaned in, his face flooded with concern, and asked Hornblower to repeat himself.
//
Slowly, the words thick with sleep and illness, Hornblower did.
//
“Nothing, my lord,” Bush stammered.
//
“My leg?” Hornblower groped restlessly but was unable to move enough to obtain the information he desired.
//
“Wounded but recovering, my lord. Please don’t move yourself, my lord.”
//
“O, withered is the garland of the war,” Kennedy said softly, and Hornblower’s bleared gaze swiveled to the corner where Kennedy stood, arms crossed and a half-smile lighting his face.
//
“My God! Kennedy?” Hornblower quoted back, and was rewarded with a broader smile. Bush looked from one to the other, clearly missing something, and Hornblower, as always quick to give, made an allusion that would include him.
//
“I’m afraid I’m not quite up to a jump off the cliff yet, William. But I shall if it is the only method by which I can persuade you to call me Horatio below decks.” This lengthy speech from the invalid was interrupted by pauses for breath and a coughing fit. When it was finished, Hornblower sank back onto his pillow. “Water.”
//
This time, with infinite grace, Bush stepped back and it was Kennedy’s turn to serve, gently holding his friend’s head and persuading him to take several sips.
//
The tableau was broken by a frantic drumming on the door.
//
“Come,” Bush barked. It was Pollard.
//
“Begging your pardon, sir. The Swedes have sent a boat for the commodore, sir. There's a captain on board, sir. It’s a Mr. Ellen … storm … sir. He requests that he might meet with the three of you at once, sir. He says he has most urgent news, sir.” Pollard had tumbled his momentous news out so quickly that Bush had to take a moment to allow his ear to translate it.
//
“Very well, Mr. Pollard. I’ll attend him at once.” Bush met Hornblower’s glance. “I’ll bring him here. You’re not to stand or even to sit. Whatever-his-name-is can bloody well take his meeting at the convenience of the commodore. My lord,” Bush said, his lips twitching..
//
Then Hornblower smiled as well.
//
Ehrenstrom tumbled into the cramped space, his words spilling out, the flush of excitement telling the English that the news was good.
//
“Min mannen har vande dem rygg. Den skeppa in har fled. Vi har seger.”
//
The translator was on his heels.
//
“My men have turned them back. The ships have fled. We have victory.”
//
Unlikely, but not impossible. It had been known to happen before. Bush stood, his eyes distant, his thoughts disordered.
//
“I’ll come up on deck,” he finally said.
//
From the deck he and Kennedy could see the truth, that the battle had ended. Three French ships were even now hauling their colors down -- were the movements of the sailors sullen? -- and the dead were being cleared unceremoniously from the field some distance away.
//
With a sudden release of tension both Kennedy and Bush laughed as they turned toward each other. Impulsively Kennedy embraced the older man, who at first stiffened, then relaxed, feeling a surge of unexplained warmth well in him at the awareness of a new level of true friendship having been forged.
//
Their pleasure was only momentary, however. As soon as they were below, they saw a change in Hornblower. No longer awake, he was tossing feverishly, his teeth gritted, eyes clamped shut, low horrible groans escaping him. Bush leaned and felt the high forehead.
//
“Fever’s returned,” he said briefly. “Pass the word for the King’s doctor.”
//
The doctor’s examination was too short before he straightened, his face severe.
//
“Infektion. Jag skal vara nod till a amputera.”
//
Bush’s face suffused with anger. He and Kennedy spoke together at once.
//
“No, you can’t.”
//
“Damn you, man, why are you so eager?”
//
The surgeon straightened, offended, as the two uniformed officers rounded on him in the tiny cabin.
//
“I serve the King,” he said in heavily accented English. That seemed to suffice him, for he said no more but continued to gaze angrily at them.
//
“At the moment, I am the senior officer, sir, and I forbid it.” Bush's words were clipped, too clipped for courtesy.
//
The translator mumbled the unwelcome information to the King’s doctor, who flushed.
//
“What would you have me do? The fever returns and returns. It is an infection,” he said in Swedish and the translator, terrified of three men’s wrath at close quarters, stammered out the translation.
//
Bush thought, his lips clamped shut.
//
“Try willow bark.” At the doctor’s blank look, Kennedy supplied, “Tanacetum parthenium,” and the doctor’s face cleared.
//
He said something to the translator, who trotted from the room. Too late, the doctor realized that he had deprived himself of assistance. He spread his hands expressively and in the end contented himself with Latin and pantomime. “Tanacetum parthenium,” and mimed that it would be brought. The herb was not quite the same; it was feverfew; but it would serve. With luck.
//
The herb was brought and mixed, and this time it was Bush who helped Hornblower choke down the pungent stuff.
//
The night was long. Bush and Kennedy alternately stood and sat, fidgeted and silently wished for room to pace. Hornblower was still, but it was not a healing stillness. Instead he lay in a stupor, hovering between life and death. The silence grew oppressive, but neither man had the courage to voice what they both thought. At length, as the darkness began to gray through the windows, Kennedy cleared his throat.
//
“If…”
//
“I know,” Bush said quickly. Instinctively they both looked at Hornblower. His breathing was shallow, but he was still breathing. His face was still an unhealthy gray, and his curls were drenched with sweat. Bush laid a hand on the broad forehead.
//
“A little cooler, I think. Archie?”
//
Kennedy stood and leaned in, then copied Bush’s gesture.
//
“I think you’re right. William. Perhaps he would benefit from a clean shirt?”
//
Bush’s lips tightened for not having thought of it himself. “Of course.”
//
Working together, silently, in harmony for the man they revered, they gently lifted him and eased off the filthy and sweat-soaked nightshirt, sponged down his torso, and eased him into a clean one. As the operation was completed the long lashes fluttered.
//
“Water.”
//
Kennedy held him up while Bush carefully helped Hornblower take several small swallows, until he coughed and spluttered in protest. Enough.
//
Something as small as a clean nightshirt, a little water, and a sponging down seemed to work a change, along with a second dose of feverfew. Now when Hornblower slept, it was not in a gray stupor but restoratively, his breathing steady, his face pale but no longer gray. Relieved, Kennedy made a long-overdue return to the Dumbarton and Bush retreated to the lieutenants’ cabin he had claimed, and the friends also slept.
//
In the morning, the King’s doctor grudgingly admitted that the fever had gone -- for now, at least, but through the translator said in a tone that brooked no argument that he should stay close for at least a week longer. He carefully and skillfully examined Hornblower, who was groggy but awake, announcing at length that the shoulder was healing well and the leg more slowly but also showing signs of progress. The feverfew, he had said, had worked; and his tone now was less grudging.
//
The week bade long for the men of the Dumbarton, the Porta Coeli, and the Clam, now repaired and back with her fleet. Bush, as the senior officer, was forced to sit through several diplomatic sessions with the King and Ehrenstrom. At last, and none too soon, came the dispatch recalling the diminished fleet back to England.
//
Again Bush was conscious, as he prepared to give the order to weigh anchor, of that uneven shuffling scrape he had heard before. And again, by the time he identified the sound, there was Hornblower at the rail beside him. Wraith-thin, ghostly pale, unshaven, tousled, but dressed, his commodore braced himself on unsteady feet and gripped the rail with his right hand before carefully resting his left hand without pressure beside it.
//
“Captain Bush,” he said formally. “Weigh anchor, if you please.”
//
“I make signal from the Dumbarton, my lord.”
//
“H-o-o-r-a-h Commodore,” the flag midshipman interpreted.
//
“Hip hip --”
//
“Hoorah!”
//
“Hip hip --”
//
“Hoorah!”
//
“Hip hip --”
//
“Hoorah!”
//
Across the water they could hear faintly echoing the cries from the Dumbarton and belatedly from the Clam.
//
Hornblower schooled his pallid face to hide his pleasure. “Now, weigh anchor if you please, Captain Bush.”
//// //// //// //// ////
“You know, of course, dearest,” Barbara spoke to him across the dinner table, “all England is abuzz with how you single-handedly turned back that man.” She never could bring herself to say his name, or his irreverent nickname.
//
“Hardly single-handedly, my dear. No -- no more, thank you,” he said to the servant who was attempting to refill his plate. Over his protests, Barbara said:
//
“Yes, give him more,” then to Hornblower, “Really, dearest, I must insist. Richard could knock you over. He nearly did with his embrace of welcome.”
//
“An exaggeration, surely.” Hornblower frowned at his refilled plate, but obediently picked up knife and fork. He was sure he should be ill if he ate any more; nevertheless, he supposed Barbara was right. She nearly always was.
//
“We must thank Providence that nothing too serious befell you.”
//
Well, she hadn’t seen the scars. If he was careful, it would be some time, if ever, before she did, and then he could explain them away better.
//
“No … nothing serious.” He sighed in contentment.. He was full, and drowsy, and safely at home with Barbara and Richard, and tonight he would sleep in his own wonderful bed with marvelously cool linen sheets and with the warmth and pleasant presence of Barbara beside him, and in the morning he would take Richard into the garden and reacquaint himself with the toddler. For now, it was enough to smile, and take Barbara’s hand across the table, and so he did.