Honour Thy Father
by Nereus

*Honour thy Father (I)*

The letter was waiting when Renown docked. Lt Hornblower had to
brace himself before going to the captain's cabin, but fortunately
it was one of Sawyer's better days. One of the days that occurred
less and less frequently. He was granted two weeks shore leave on
the spot.

"The boat is ready," Lt Kennedy said, coming in to the small cabin
where Hornblower was swiftly putting clothes in a valise. He paused
for a moment, then asked quietly, "How long ago was the letter
dated?"

"Three weeks - well, two and a half."

"That's not so long. In any case, it's not your fault we were at
sea." Hornblower did not answer. "Don't forget to pack your
shaving gear."

"What? Oh. No." He swept the gear into the valise.

"There's no point in getting frantic, Horatio. You told me
yourself, the stage doesn't leave till evening."

"I'd thought of hiring a chaise, but I probably don't have the
money. I don't know how much they cost."

"Nor do I, but you're welcome to take my purse. Pay me back when
you can."

Hornblower hesitated, then took it. "Thank you, Archie."

"That's all right." Kennedy watched Renown's third lieutenant
hastily fasten his valise, then reached out to grip his
arm. "Godspeed, Horatio."

~~#~~

"Is Mr. Hornblower close to his father?" Lt Buckland asked in the
wardroom that evening.

"He has always spoken highly of him," Kennedy replied, with perfect
truth. "He writes to his father frequently." The replies were far
less frequent, but that was no business of Buckland's. Nor were the
other opinions he had formed about Dr. Hornbower, based not on
anything Horatio had said, but on the things he did not say.

"It is fortunate that he has a relatively short distance to travel,"
Buckland said, "It would be far less easy for yourself, I imagine."

"Far less," Kennedy acknowledged. "I've not been home since I
joined the Navy." Nor had he seen his parents in that time, a
thought much on his mind since hearing of Horatio's news. His
harassed, well-meaning father, worn-down from the strains of trying
to maintain an impoverished estate, his faded, once-pretty mother,
generally in ill-health. Neither was strong. It was a hard thought
that he might not see them again, but at least there were no wounds
to heal....

None of that was Buckland's business either. He changed the
conversation with a question about how duties were to be divided in
the third lieutenant's absence.

~~#~~

The stage was mercifully deserted - even their combined funds had
not been enough for a post-chaise. His teeth set against the
jolting, Horatio Hornblower watched the landscape pass in a blur.

He had written. So many letters. But he had never said the things
that were important.

"I have been transferred to a new ship, the frigate
Indefatigable. Captain Keene assures me that this is a fine
opportunity."

*A good man is dead because of me. Because he wanted to
protect me from my own folly. If I could only have endured matters
for a few more days he would be living.*

"Because of our losses in the cutting-out expedition Captain
Pellew has promoted me to Acting Lieutenant. Naturally I am greatly
honoured and mean to make every effort to show myself worthy."

*My only friend is dead or in enemy hands. Because of me.
Because I angered a man who would stop at nothing for revenge and
involved him in my defiance.*

"I conducted the supply ship safely into harbour."

*I had to kill a man. Not a bad man, just unhappy. I
should have been able to reach him. I failed.*

"The result of the expedition was disappointing, but we
withdrew in good order, and Captain Pellew considers that no blame
attaches to the men of our ship."

*I got a young girl killed. She was beautiful and brave and
I ... did I love her? I'm not sure. But I got her killed. She
died in my arms and there was nothing I could do.*

He had been home on shore leave from time to time. But he had never
spoken the important things then either.

~~#~~

At the far end he had to hire a horse - an old, quiet one - to take
him the last stage of the journey.

His aunt opened the door. "The letter got to you in time then,"
were her first words, and the ones that told him all he needed to
hear.

Dr Hornblower had been a tall man, like his son, but broader of
shoulder. His hair, when he wore it unpowdered, had been a thick,
straight chestnut, his eyes grey, his features classically regular.
To the young Horatio he had been the epitome of all that was strong
and handsome. Age had treated him lightly, he had been still strong
and handsome the last time his son had seen him, although his hair
was silvered. Now his flesh was shrunken, one side of his face
twisted and rigid. He's only fifty-nine, the younger Hornblower
thought numbly, as he had over and over since first receiving the
letter. Only fifty-nine.

His father's eyes were open. "You decided to come then, Horace."

The younger Hornblower suppressed the perennial, disloyal thought
that having saddled him with a name like Horatio the least his
father could do was use it.

"Yes, father. I came as soon as I could, as soon as I heard." His
voice wavered.

"I don't want to hear explanations, Horace. And I certainly don't
want any womanish sentiment. I'm dying, rather more slowly than I'd
have chosen, but faster than I've seen men go. Leave it at that.
Now I'm tired and I want to sleep."

~~#~~

The evening light shone on the village green. Boys were playing a
rough form of cricket. The young Horatio had tried hard at such
games, but had never succeeded, he was slow in reaction and, no
matter how hard he concentrated, couldn't seem to judge where the
ball would be. It had been the same in school games, the same,
later, in sword practice on ship.

* "Watch it, Horatio!" Cleveland exclaimed,
exasperated. "You can slice your own ear off if you want, but keep
well away from mine!"*

* "You've got two left feet, Hornblower," the other boy - he
couldn't remember who it had been now - sneered. "On the ends of
your wrists!"*

No wonder his father had always been so disappointed in him. The
older Hornblower had been a noted sportsman in youth and even in
middle age a bruising rider and excellent shot. Horatio had been a
sickly, undersized child, and although his health had improved as he
got older, he had remained a thin youth - skinny his father called
him - and a complete failure at sport. He was shy also, socially
awkward, whereas his father was a popular guest who liked nothing
better than mixing in such society as their country district
offered. All his life he had been miserably conscious of his
failure. Of how far short he fell of the kind of son his father had
desired.

 

 

~~#~~

"This new posting," his father said, "You wrote that it is a larger
ship."

"Yes, Father, a ship of the line. A good opportunity, Captain
Sawyer has a fine reputation."

"A step up for you then."

"Yes, Father."

"Is this new ship larger than Justinian?"

"No, around the same."

"So your transfer from Justinian was a step down. I always assumed
it."

"No, Father. It was not like that. Captain Keene -"

"Don't try to pull the wool over my eyes, Horace. No doubt you gave
Keene cause for dissatisfaction."

It was no use arguing, never any use arguing.

"I notice that this transfer has been accompanied by a marked
falling off in the support you have been sending."

"I've done my best, Father. Renown has not taken any prizes since I
joined her."

"You say that, although you admit she is a better ship?"

"It's... it doesn't work that way. The frigates are the predators
of the fleet."

"You always did have a good excuse, Horace. I only hope you've not
been squandering the money on pox-ridden women."

"No, Father! I wouldn't do that!"

"No, I don't suppose you would." A slight gleam came into the dying
man's eyes. "I hope you're not celibate, but you're not the kind to
be debauched, are you?"

"No, Father." He couldn't work out how much humour there had been
in the last words.

"Don't worry, I won't pry further. I need to sleep now, in any
case. I must apologise for taking such a time over my dying."

"Father-"

"I'm tired, Horace. Let me sleep."

~~#~~

"What will you do?" Horatio asked his aunt.

Grace Garrowby was a plain, angular woman, not at all like her
brother. She had come to be his housekeeper after her own
widowhood, some years earlier. The young Horatio, then usually away
at school and soon to enter the Navy, had never known her well.

"Go to live with Joshua," she replied. "He has his own home now."

"Oh. Good. I'm sure that's right." Since Horatio had never even
met his cousin he found it hard to pursue the conversation.

"He has invited me before," his aunt said, "but Philip is my
brother, and I considered it my Christian duty to stay with him."
There was little Horatio could answer to that.

~~#~~

"He's... gone?"

"I'm afraid so, Horace."

"And I wasn't there."

"You had to sleep sometime. I would have woken you if I'd known, I
promise. But he just.... stopped. Everything stopped."

"He, he didn't say anything? For me ...or about me?"

"No, Horace. I'm sure he didn't know what was coming. That's as
well."

~~#~~

"It's a perfectly simple will. A small legacy to his sister, a few
personal items bequeathed to friends, the rest of the property to
yourself. I warn you, it will not amount to much. The house was
leased for his lifetime, you know,"

"I know."

"Frankly the estate will barely cover the debts."

"That's quite all right. I understand."

~~#~~

The funeral was well attended. He could never afterwards be sure
how many people had been there. Some he did not recognise after so
many years at sea. Some he did not think he had ever known.

Many seemed genuinely grieved. There was no mistaking the sincerity
of the tributes they came to pay him afterwards. The ones to his
father's skill as a doctor were fairly easy to handle. But the
others, the ones to his father's charm, his sociability, the ease
with which he made friends.... the others were hard.

That evening, worn out, he made the mistake of voicing thoughts
aloud.

"They are together now."

"Who?"

"My parents." He was surprised she had to ask.

"Perhaps." His aunt must have been tired also, he had never heard
her directly criticise her brother before, but now she said, "Of
course he married her for her money."

"They were happy. Weren't they?"

"Oh, he treated her well enough," Grace Garrowby said. "He had to,
her father had settled it in such a way he couldn't touch it without
her consent. And she was pretty, your mother. Yes, I daresay they
were as happy as most couples. It was you who suffered."

"He was a good father to me, always...."

"You don't believe that," his aunt said, not unkindly. "Philip was
my brother, but he was a selfish man. All he cared for was his own
pleasure. So long as he could hunt with the squire, keep a full
wine cellar and the rest of it, that was all that mattered. No
matter what became of you. I knew he was running through the money,
but I couldn't stop him. It was his, when your mother died. And of
course it ran out, it was bound to run out the way he spent. And
you know what happened then."

He couldn't speak.

"Packed off to the Navy. No life for a boy like you. But he
wouldn't listen to me, said it was all he could afford. Well of
course it was, he'd spent the money. You should have had a
university education, instead you didn't even finish schooling. All
because of him and his squandering."

"I - I'm happy in the service."

"You're a loyal liar, Horace, but a liar still. You don't fool me.
He even managed to convince you to support him. A share of your
pay, all your prize money, oh yes, I know. Good money after bad.
He could have lived well enough on what he earned, but that wasn't
enough for him. You're a loyal boy, but you're a fool."

"I will not hear you speak so! He was my father! I will not hear
you speak like that again."

"If that's how you want it," his aunt said. "I daresay you're
right. One should not speak ill of the dead. But the truth is
still the truth."

~~#~~

It was late when Lt Hornblower came aboard Renown. He reported to
the captain, who snapped at him, gave answers as brief as possible
to the questions of the other lieutenants (chiefly Buckland), and
retreated thankfully to the shelter of his tiny cabin.

Kennedy came in about fifteen minutes later, and pushed some kind of
hot drink into his hands.

"Here. You look worn out." Hornblower swallowed some of the drink
gratefully but said nothing. "Was it very bad?"

"No. He didn't suffer greatly. I'm just tired." He wasn't sure
Kennedy believed him but his friend did not push further.

He was tired, and perhaps that was why he found himself speaking
some of his thoughts aloud. "He was a fine man, everyone liked him,
respected him. He had great charm. And skill, he was a very good
doctor. I knew I can't be like him, but I did want to make him
proud."

"I'm sure he was," Kennedy said. "Even if he didn't tell you. Some
men don't find it easy to say those things."

A kind thing to say, but Kennedy hadn't known his father. He handed
back the empty mug.

"Thank you, Archie. I really must get some sleep. If you don't
mind."

"Of course not, Horatio. Good night."

He was tired, but sleep did not come easily that night. Lt.
Hornblower lay staring into the darkness for a long time before
exhaustion finally pulled him under.

~finis~

 

*Honour thy Father (II)*

*Narrative of Richard Hornblower*

****

I finished going through my father's papers today.

It wasn't a hard task. He kept everything shipshape and kept
nothing without a reason. There were no old letters, no journals,
no outdated personal papers. The only thing that could be remotely
considered a sentimental keepsake was an old sailing manual, with
notes in what I recognised as a youthful version of his own hand.
Everything else was practical, well ordered and told me nothing
whatever.

When I had done I sat for a while staring at my hands. His hands.
Just like his hands used to be before old age made the knuckles
swell and skin hang loosely. My mother - stepmother rather - told
me once that my feet are like his also, but I don't look like him in
any other way. Whether I resemble my real mother, who died when I
was born, I don't know. No-one ever described her to me and there
are no pictures.

I've never missed her. My father's second wife was as good a mother
as I could ask for. It was with my father that I felt something....
not wrong exactly.... lacking. Of course he was away a lot when I
was younger, but a lot of boys have fathers in the services. The
sadness was that we never knew what to say to each other when he was
home. We never talked to each other beyond the commonplace.

He was different with other boys and young men. My cousins liked
him. My mother told me when I was young it was more difficult for
him with me *because* I was his son. I never understood that, yet
it might be true. My uncle Arthur was very much the same, although
I got on well with him, his own sons found him distant.

I was always proud of my father. I always admired him, wished to
live up to him. When I was a boy I used to ask him to tell me of
his victories, but he never would. When I was a man he published
two books of memoirs, cool records of the actions he'd served in, no
doubt of great interest to students of naval tactics. I read both
eagerly, but by then I wanted to know, not what he'd done and seen,
but what he'd thought and felt, and the books contained no hint of
that. I know nothing of his early life, save the bare records of
his career, nothing of his parents save the facts on their
tombstone. Nothing of him, save what's common knowledge and a few
odd things my mother told me.

He was a good father in many ways. He never beat me, rarely
lectured or criticised. He didn't lay down harsh rules. He was
generous with money. I don't doubt I could have gone to him in
trouble, but I never did. I never landed myself in serious
difficulties, minor ones I took to my mother or one of her
brothers. I didn't fear him, but I feared very much to be a
disappointment to him. I would rather have cut off my arm than lost
standing in his eyes.

I don't know why he urged me to join the army, when I wished to
follow in his footsteps. I don't know why he wouldn't agree to my
naming my eldest son Horatio. I don't know why he kept me at arms
length, always, resisting every attempt I made to know him better.

I don't know why he had affairs with other women. Not so many, two
perhaps three to my knowledge. Many married men have more, but he
seemed incapable of being discreet about it. Strange, when he kept
his life so well organised in other ways.

"Of course I didn't expect him to be celibate all the times we were
apart," my mother said on the day following his death. "But he -"
she stopped then, changed whatever she had been about to say. "Well,
one must make allowances."

I think that was the only time I felt truly angry towards him.

That same day she said that he'd been proud of me. I don't know
whether that was truth or just kindness. Maybe he told her, he
never told me.

I sit and I know that we were never more than mere acquaintances. I
know I'll never understand him. I know I've spent my whole life
hoping for some sign, not of affection, that was not my father's
way, but of approbation. I know I'll never have it now.

~finis~