Time and Tide
by Pam P

Bush made his way cautiously through the darkness, carrying
the sheaf of papers tightly under one arm. He and Hornblower
had thought it prudent that they should all dress in civilian
clothes whilst they were on this mission, so as not to draw
unwarranted attention to themselves. It seemed to have been a
good idea; he had so far passed through the narrow streets
without incident.

The quietness made him uneasy. He had expected to encounter
some late night revellers returning to their beds, even at this
hour, but the place was deserted. It felt as though something
was just waiting to happen, and as Bush rounded the corner that
took him onto the road up the hill, he got the distinct impression
that he was being followed.

The feeling increased as he mounted the steep path. Bush
trusted his instincts enough to put his hand on his sword, which
was concealed under a heavy woollen cloak. He did not slow his
pace; that would have given the game away to whoever it was,
but he listened more carefully for the sound of footsteps behind
him.

Whoever it was, they were good. Bush caught snatches of
sounds which could just have been the breeze catching the tall
trees which lined the roadside, or perhaps the noise of a night
creature foraging in the long grass. He got the impression of a
fleeting shadow; a trick of the moonlight, perhaps, but nothing
more. His heart pounded as he strained his senses to their
most sensitive.

He wanted to look behind him, to see if he could glimpse sight of
a figure, but he did not want his pursuer to know that he was
aware of him. Indeed, he still wasn't sure that he was being
followed at all; there was no solid evidence. It could all be in his
imagination, brought on by the tension of the last few days and
the unorthodox nature of the mission which he and Hornblower
had been given.

The clouds whipped across the moon, driven on by a rapidly
swelling wind. Bush tugged his cloak more tightly around him,
and trudged up the incline. He would have to leave the road
before he reached the crown of the hill; there was a little used
path which wound down the side of the cliff face that would take
him to his prearranged meeting. Bush did not really like the idea
of using this path in the darkness. It was difficult enough for
anyone to pick their way along it in broad daylight, and most
people preferred to use the longer, safer route. Still, he thought,
that was probably the reason why their unlikely allies had
chosen the spot to rendezvous. Virtually no chance of being
discovered, or disturbed. The question was, did he take the path,
if he thought he was being followed, or did he continue on the
main road?

Bush did not get the opportunity to consider this point fully,
however. At that moment, he heard a sudden, swift movement
behind him, and a pair of hands grabbed his shoulders.
Instinctively, he hunched forward, making himself a smaller
target, and pulled his attacker off balance. Spinning round, Bush
pulled his sword from its scabbard. He lunged, and felt the blade
strike home; heard a startled grunt escape his adversary's lips,
but the man did not fall. He staggered back, clutching his
shoulder and swearing vehemently.

Bush prepared to strike again. Then more sound, as two more
men emerged from the shadows. One man brought the stock of
a musket down on Bush's wrist with a crack, forcing him to let go
of his sword as pain shot through his arm, the other pinioned
Bush's arms tightly behind his back. The movement was so
quick, that Bush barely had time to react. He kicked out at his
attackers getting in one or two good blows, and twisting his body
violently in an attempt to get free, but the grip was like iron. The
man holding him swore at his struggles, then said something to
his colleague with the musket that sounded like, "Stop him, for
God's sake."

Bush guessed what was coming and ducked the first blow, as
the musket butt descended, but he wasn't quick enough to avoid
the second. It crashed down on his head, sending sparks
exploding across his vision, and making him feel as though his
skull would split open. He felt blood trickle warmly down his face,
as shards of agony lanced through his brain. He cried out, and
sank to his knees, dazed and confused. He felt himself being
dragged to the side of the road, and tried to wriggle loose, in
spite of his pain.

Evidently, the three men took exception to this. They deposited
him in the long grass verge, then one of the men stood and
watched impassively while the other two made sure he did not
struggle any further. Bush grunted as the first blows from a boot
hit him violently in the ribs with a nerve jarring crunch; then in the
stomach, winding him. The next blows caught him squarely on
the jaw, and his head snapped to one side. Bush tasted blood,
and the world went topsy-turvy as he gasped for breath. He
sensed, rather than saw, the men look through his layers of
clothing until they found the papers, and vaguely heard a
satisfied exclamation.

After that, everything became a blur. Bush had a jumbled image
of the three men disappearing down the road towards the coast,
of their voices fading into the distance, and he realised he had
not seen their faces. Nausea crashed over him, and as he
fought to contain it, the pain suddenly got much, much worse.
The last thing he saw was the moon reappearing from behind a
cloud, looming gigantically out of proportion, and then he was
swallowed up in blackness.

******

He came back slowly, disoriented. He saw, as his eyes
gradually focussed, that the dawn was edging reluctantly over
the horizon. Then he felt that both he and the ground on which he
lay were wet with the rain which must have fallen at some point
during the night. Bush moaned softly. His head felt as though it
would burst; even worse than the worst of the hangovers he had
experienced after many a shore leave celebration. He did not
much care for the persistent ache in his ribs either, which
twinged sharply with every attempt at movement.

The events of the previous evening came back to him with a
rush, and one thought echoed around his brain - the papers.
Damn it! Bush thought with a mixture of anger and consternation.
What in hell's name was he going to tell Hornblower?

The thought of this made Bush decide that he had had enough
of lying on the ground, and that it was high time he took some
action. He knew that both Hornblower and the people he was
going to meet would have missed him by now. They would
probably be out looking for him. He would be found before long,
and the loss of the plans and maps he'd been entrusted with
was embarrassing enough, without being found flat on his back.

He put a hand up to the side of his head, and explored the place
where he'd been hit gingerly. It did not feel reassuring. It was still
oozing blood slowly, although the flow had stemmed
considerably. His other hand went to his ribs, and he winced as
he found the swelling that told him he'd be lucky not to have
broken any. Nevertheless, he couldn't stay here, that much was
certain.

Bush steeled himself with a deep breath and used an arm to
haul himself over onto his side. The movement made him shout
out, as pain shot through him, but at least he'd be able to get up,
once he'd got his breath back and the sky had settled into the
right place. Swallowing hard, Bush levered himself tentatively
into a sitting position, clutching his ribs with one hand. He was
sweating with the effort, and stayed like that for a few minutes
before getting first to his knees, then to his feet.

He swayed madly, putting out an arm to steady himself on a
nearby tree. He breathed deeply, ignoring the storm of protest
from his ribs, trying to calm his racing heart. Once sufficiently
recovered, he would head back towards the town, in the hope of
meeting up with Hornblower. Failing that, Bush assumed that
the Inn would be the best place to look.

******

He had stumbled down the hill road like a drunkard, barely
feeling his feet make contact with the ground. His knees gave
with every step, and it took an effort of will to keep going. Bush
was glad for a keen sense of direction, for he was finding it
difficult to see where he was at times; his vision kept clouding as
though a sudden mist had descended, before lifting and
restoring to clarity. By the time he reached the turning that would
take him into the town, Bush desperately wanted to stop and
rest, but he was not at all sure of his ability to get up again
afterwards, so he forced himself to carry on.

He had hoped to have met Hornblower by now; surely he'd have
realised that something was wrong? Bush shivered with the
thought that if the three men knew about the papers, then
perhaps something had also happened to Hornblower, which
meant that the Captain was unable to come and look for him.
What if he was in worse shape than Bush himself? Dizziness
suddenly swept over him, and he leaned heavily against the side
of one of the first cream coloured store buildings at the edge of
the town. Damn it, he thought, closing his eyes, pull yourself
together!

He felt a hand on his shoulder at that moment, and a voice which
was tantalisingly familiar through the gathering mists in his mind
said "William? Good God, man, are you all right?"

 

He knew he should have recognised it, but somehow it sounded
hopelessly garbled. Bush forced his eyes open to see the
blurred outline of Hornblower standing in front of him. He tried to
reply but when he opened his mouth to speak, all that escaped
his lips was a startled gasp. He saw Hornblower reach out
suddenly with an exclamation as he felt himself sliding towards
the ground; felt himself supported firmly under the arms as his
vision faded, then he lost his hold on consciousness.

******

Hornblower was more alarmed than he cared to admit. Bush
had looked like hell. He'd been worried when Bush had not
returned from the arranged rendezvous, and even more
concerned when one of the representatives of their proposed
allies had showed up, furious at their having broken their word to
attend. To add to his feelings of anxiety and tension, there had
been a drunken brawl in the square resulting in serious
casualties, and Hornblower, Matthews, Styles and their visitor
had been rounded up with all the others in a ridiculous case of
mistaken identity. It had taken hours for Hornblower to convince
the duty sergeant that he was who he said he was; the local
militia were as stupid as they were assiduous, and they had
spent most of the night in the old gaol, kicking their heels in
frustration.

As soon as they had been released, Matthews and the others
had headed in various directions, looking for Bush. Hornblower
was glad that it had been him who had found his friend, and who
had carried him into the store house, where he had laid Bush
onto the straw strewn floor.

The gash on the temple was nasty; clearly inflicted with some
force, and probably the main reason why Bush had blacked out.
Hornblower had removed a large handkerchief from his jacket
pocket and pressed it against the wound carefully. He was
unsure what exactly had happened the previous night, but he
guessed that it had been an ambush of some sort. If that were
true, then the papers had probably gone before his friend had
been able to reach the rendezvous point.

He had finally managed to get Bush, dazed and semi conscious,
back to the Inn and laid him on the bed in his room . The doctor
had arrived moments later, summoned by Styles, whom
Hornblower had bumped into, literally, in the square. Now
Hornblower was kicking his heels outside Bush's room while
the doctor did his work. After what seemed like a long time to
Hornblower, the door opened, and the doctor stepped out.

"Well?" asked Hornblower anxiously.

The doctor met his gaze steadily. "He's been lucky," he said. "A
couple of broken ribs and mild concussion. The bruising will
fade in time. It's important he gets as much rest as possible,
Captain. I will look in on him again later."

Hornblower received this information with a mixture of alarm and
relief. Bush would be all right, but what the hell had gone wrong?
"Can I see him, doctor?"

"For a few minutes. Don't over-tire him, Captain."

Hornblower nodded and then entered the room.

It was much darker in there than out on the landing. The doctor
had pulled the drapes to in order to shut out the sunlight. A
couple of candles flickered near the bed. Hornblower
approached, and saw that Bush's eyes were open. Bandages
had been wrapped around his head and rib cage, but
Hornblower could still see the vivid purple and black bruising on
Bush's chest and torso.

"William," he said quietly, taking a seat in the chair by the bed.
"How do you feel?"

Bush attempted a smile which turned into a wince. "Like I've
been hit by a broadside from a 74, Sir," he said hoarsely, "but I'll
live."

Hornblower looked grave. "The doctor said you'd been lucky," he
said.

Bush harrumphed. "He would," he replied. "He'd think again if it
were him lying here." He groaned as he tried to shift his position
slightly. "Damn it!" he said, clutching his ribs, "these bandages
are like a vice. I think he's trying to finish me off himself."

"What happened?" Hornblower asked. "Do you remember?"

Bush nodded slightly, then hissed as the movement sent fire
crashing through his skull. "I was attacked by three men on the
road up the hill, Sir," he said painfully. "I didn't see their faces;
they were covered, but they must have known I was coming, and
they were definitely looking for the plans. They didn't take
anything else. I tried to stop them, Sir, and... well, you can guess
the rest."

Bush sighed, as though the effort of talking were proving
arduous. He swallowed, then closed his eyes for a few
moments, breathing deeply.

Horatio reckoned he'd had enough. "It's all right, Mr Bush," he
said reassuringly. "Just rest now. We'll talk later."

"Later, Sir?" Bush murmured. "Why? What are you going to do
now?"

"Nothing," Hornblower said firmly. "I'm staying here for a while.
Just relax. We'll sort things out, don't you worry."

Bush mumbled something else, but Hornblower couldn't quite
work out what it was. He didn't bother to ask though, because
he could see that Bush was dropping into sleep. He watched as
his friend's breathing became gradually more steady and
regular, then leaned back in the chair.

*******
Bush had decided after three days that the novelty of doing
nothing and staring at a ceiling whose plaster was cracked and
yellowing was definitely wearing thin. He announced his
intention to get up that morning when Hornblower appeared,
early as usual, to check on him.

"Are you sure that this is a good idea?" Hornblower asked, as
Bush threw back the bedclothes.

"Sir," Bush said firmly, fixing Hornblower with a steady gaze, "it's
a damn sight better than another twenty four hours stuck here,
believe me."

"But the doctor said..."

Bush snorted. "The doctor's not here, is he?" he said. Then his
tone became more pleading. "Please, Sir. I'm going mad, lying
here. I have to get up." He started to swing himself round
gingerly. "Of course," he said, "it would be much easier if you
were to help me."

Hornblower sighed in resignation, and nodded. He helped Bush
to ease slowly into a sitting position, taking as much of his
weight as possible. Bush grunted, and clutched his ribs. It was
clear that the movement had been painful, but he recovered his
breath quickly, and put both feet on the wooden floor. Once
again, with Hornblower's help, Bush was able to stand, and he
sucked in lungfulls of air gratefully.

Unfortunately, in his relief at being out of bed, Bush had forgotten
his injuries for a half moment, and had started to stretch himself.
His broken ribs soon reminded him of their presence, however,
and he let out a startled yell of pain, followed by some choice
words of exclamation, at which even Hornblower reddened.

"Sorry, Sir," Bush apologised sheepishly, once he'd straightened
up. Hornblower waved away his embarrassment, and he put a
hand to his head, experimentally feeling the bandage.

Hornblower watched Bush as he ran his fingers over the area
where he'd been hit. "What is it?" he asked.

"Nothing, Sir," Bush said, finishing his explorations. "Just wanted
to make sure everything's still in one piece, that's all."

"Why? Doesn't it feel as though it is?"

"Not entirely," Bush admitted with a low groan. He paused, and
then began, "Remember that night in Spanish Town?"

Hornblower shrugged. "Vaguely."

"Remember the morning after?"

Hornblower nodded ruefully. "All too vividly, I'm afraid."

"Well, Sir," Bush said slowly. "That's pretty much what my head
feels like right now."

Hornblower's face clouded. He'd felt like hell that morning.
`Death warmed up' was a startlingly accurate and relevant
description at the time. If Bush's head felt like that....

"Are you sure you should be up?" Hornblower asked. "I mean, if it
feels that bad...."

Bush made a credible attempt to pull himself together. "It'll pass,
I think," he said confidently. "And anyway, I can't lie around for
ever, Sir. I need to do something. I need to try to find out why the
hell I was attacked in the first place." He frowned. "And to find out
who did it," he said darkly.

Hornblower nodded slowly. He was with Bush on that one. In the
last two days, he'd put out feelers as to the possible identities of
the men Bush had mentioned, but unsurprisingly had failed to
turn up anything of value. He had sent Matthews and Styles out to
the various taverns and watering holes in the area; a task which
Styles in particular had had difficulty in disguising his pleasure
at, hoping that they might overhear a conversation, or catch sight
of something useful, but they had drawn a complete blank, at
least as far as any information was concerned.

To tell truth, Hornblower had been too concerned about Bush to
give the mission, or the investigation into what had gone wrong,
serious consideration. He realised, however, that time was
running short, and that unless he could discover what and who
was behind all this soon, both he and the British Navy were in
danger of being held responsible for the breakdown of whatever
tentative peace talks were being held. It was an extremely
delicate situation, and it was becoming more and more urgent
that they take action.

When Hornblower looked up again, Bush had shrugged himself
awkwardly into his shirt and jacket, and was standing at the
door. His face was still pale, but Hornblower recognised the
determined look in Bush's eye, and realised that no amount of
entreating him to think again about his being ready for this would
do any good.

"Shall we go, Sir?" Bush asked.

Hornblower nodded and got to his feet. "What do you remember
about that night in Spanish Town?" he asked conversationally,
as they headed slowly down the staircase.

When Bush met his gaze, there was a definite twinkle in his eye.
"Oh, not much," he said mischievously, then refused to be drawn
further on the subject.

Hornblower was caught between wondering fearfully what Bush
could possibly be talking about, and relief that at least his
friend's sense of humour was intact. He would explain exactly
what had happened since he'd been brought back to the Inn on
the way.

******

Bush took Hornblower to the exact spot on the road where he
had been attacked. It was a slightly unnerving experience to
climb that hill once more and walk the same deserted path he
had trod that night. He did not really think that coming here would
do any good, but Hornblower had insisted that they might find
something.

They did, in fact. At the side of the road, glinting in the watery
sunlight. It was half hidden in the tall verge, but Hornblower
spotted it quickly. "What's that?" he asked.

Bush walked over to it, and bent slightly, a grimace crossing his
lips. "It's my sword, Sir," he said. He reached with his hand to
pick it out of the grass, but he could not do so without bending
further, and that would be impossible. Bush swore silently and
then turned to Hornblower. "Would you?" he asked quietly.

Hornblower watched his friend's face as he handed him the
sword. It was clear that Bush was uncomfortable; his eyes would
not meet Hornblower's gaze and he kept looking about him,
almost as if he were expecting the men to return. There was a
faint air of embarrassment about him, as though Bush were
acutely aware of the delicacy of the situation. He obviously felt as
if he had let the side down. "Are you all right, Mr Bush?" he
asked, after Bush had not spoken for several minutes.

Bush jumped, as if startled out of a reverie. "What? Oh, yes, yes.
I'm fine, Sir," he said quickly. Too quickly. He saw Hornblower's
concerned expression and managed to smile. "Well," he
conceded, "perhaps I was a little...distracted."

Hornblower nodded thoughtfully. "I can't see anything else
around here," he said, his voice tinged with disappointment.

Bush looked round, as though seeing the place for the first time.
"No," he agreed. He turned to Hornblower and looked at him
gravely. "You know what this means, Sir, don't you?" he said.

Hornblower shook his head. "No, what?"

"They've been too careful, Sir," Bush said. "There's no trace of
them anywhere. There's only one way we're going to catch
them."

Hornblower frowned, as realisation dawned. He knew what
Bush was thinking; he knew that he was right, but he did not
want his friend to make the suggestion. "Perhaps if we were to
ask around again," he said. "Maybe we missed somebody the
first time. Maybe we went to the wrong places.."

Bush shook his head slowly. "No, Sir," he said. "If we're going to
catch them, we're going to have to set up another rendezvous.
We're going to have to make them think there's
more information changing hands. We have to catch them red
handed if we're going to salvage anything from this....incident,"
he finished carefully.

 

Back at the Inn, Matthews and Styles were sitting in the large
parlour, waiting for their return. As with the previous three days,
their efforts to find the men who had attacked Bush had been
fruitless, and frustration was beginning to set in.

Styles had a pot of ale in front of him, but oddly enough, he
hadn't touched it, Matthews noticed. And he hadn't touched it for
the last twenty minutes. A record, if memory served. Still, there
was nothing to be gained from mentioning this. Matthews
himself was in no mood for humour right now.

"So what now?" Styles asked gruffly, his fingers tracing lines on
the wet table top.

Matthews shrugged. "I don't know," he said. "Wait for Captain
Hornblower and Mr Bush to come back, I suppose. Not much
else we can do, is there?"

"No," Styles said quietly. He looked around the parlour, looking
for something to distract him. He saw a few men sitting at tables;
no-one he recognised apart from one or two of the other hands.
Normally, he and Matthews would have asked them to join them,
but they really didn't like Simmons and Winters one iota. They
had always shown just enough deference to both Hornblower
and Bush to get away with not being punished for
insubordination, but their dislike was clear.

Styles heard them talking in low voices, and put a finger to his
lips to indicate that Matthews should listen too. It might not be
polite, but it was something to do, after all.

"Well, what else did you expect?" Simmons was saying in that
indignant tone of his that always got Styles' back up.

"Yeah, a waste of time. Lieutenant High-and-Mighty Bush can't
even do a simple job," jibed Winters sneeringly.

"Well, you know what they say. Hornblower murdered Captain
Sawyer because he wanted command. Bush probably knew all
about it. Only reason he got First Left."

"That's Mr Bush to you, Simmons," said a voice from right behind
his ear.

Simmons had been too engrossed in his conversation that he
had failed to hear an enraged Styles rise from his seat and
stand at his shoulder. Matthews too had risen, and was standing
next to Styles, behind Winters.

"An interesting point of view," Matthews said, calmly. "I don't
suppose you'd like to take any of that rubbish you were spouting
back, would you?"

Styles was shaking in a bid to curtail his anger. "Those two men
have more courage and integrity in their little fingers than you
have in your whole stinking carcasses," he fumed between
clenched teeth.

Simmons sneered, his courage fuelled by the presence of his
friend, and several jugs of ale. "Oh, the Captain's lap dogs are
upset that we insulted their heroes, are they?" he mocked.

It was enough for Styles to lose what was left of his frayed self
control. He yanked Simmons to his feet, while Matthews did the
same with Winters. The wooden table was up ended as the men
struggled, fists and tankards flying in almost equal measure. It
didn't take long for the rest of the ale fuelled patrons to join in.

Styles kicked, bit, punched and swore with enraged fury.
Matthews fought with just as much anger, but with cold
precision. By the time the fight had ended, and the men hauled
apart by soldiers called to the Inn by a frantic landlord, it was
wrecked and the local militia were immune to both Styles and
Matthews protests of defending their officers' honour. None of
the men were looking forward to Captain Hornblower's quiet
disappointment or Mr Bush's caustic rejoinders.

When Hornblower and Bush got back to the Inn, it was
unrecognisable. Bush blinked as though he were seeing things;
upended tables, wrecked chairs and a landlord looking as
though he were on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Hornblower raised his eyebrows quizzically. Then, both turned to
one another and said, in unison, "Styles." It had to be. But why?
And where the hell were Matthews and the others?

"In the gaol," the landlord said, draining his second large brandy.
"And I hope the bastards rot in there. Look what they've done!"
He waved his free hand helplessly around the mess that was
his livelihood.

Hornblower decided it was time to take charge. "I can only
apologise for the behaviour of my men," he began. "Rest
assured that we will make good the damage. I'll send some
men to clear up the mess and we'll take the damage out of the
men's pay."

Damn right, thought Bush. And Styles won't be paid for weeks,
judging by this lot.

******

The two officers walked thoughtfully into the centre of the town to
the gaol, wondering what it was that had sparked off the fracas.
"I'm surprised at Matthews," Hornblower said. "It isn't like him."

Bush nodded slowly. "And Styles...how many times have I told
him to keep his head down?" he said, a little tiredly.

Hornblower concealed a smile with difficulty. Bush and Styles....

It was a sheepish looking Matthews and Styles who peered at
them from the bars of their cell. "Sorry, sir," Matthews began,
genuine regret in his tone. "We.."

"Mr Matthews," Hornblower said, "you are aware that in brawling
you have brought the ship and His Majesty's Navy into
disrepute?" Hornblower caught the eyes of the other two in the
cell next to them. There was no regret there, he noticed. "And you
two," he continued, turning his fiercest stare on them, "deserve to
be flogged as well."

Bush chimed in, his tone dripping with sarcasm. "Well?' he
asked. "Got bored, did we?" He paced before the cells. "I should
have known. What in God's name were you thinking of? And as
for you..." He stopped in front of Styles, and was about to launch
into a tirade, when Hornblower put a hand on his arm. He closed
his mouth, letting Hornblower do the talking. Actually, he was
glad of Hornblower's intervention, because all this drama was
making his head ache. He really didn't need this; his legs felt
extremely shaky and it was getting harder to hide it.

"Sir," Matthews said, "we wouldn't have... I mean..."

"Well?" Hornblower asked, "what happened?" He looked
expectantly at the men. Styles and Matthews looked at their feet,
while the other two looked anywhere but at their senior officers.

"They insulted you, sir!" Styles blurted, then looked at Bush. "And
you, sir!" he said, appealingly.

Bush closed his eyes, grateful that he'd not launched the tirade
he'd been planning on the men. His head was pounding and his
eyes were burning. He had to try to stop himself trembling. He
swallowed hard and took a steadying breath, aware that
Hornblower was watching him. Damn it, he thought. He just
knew Hornblower was on the verge of an "I told you so" speech.
He prayed he'd save it till they got back to the Inn.

Hornblower for his part, had decided to forgo the "I told you so"
speech, or at least suspend it until his friend was feeling less
fragile. He was, in any case, occupied in getting his men out of
gaol and making arrangements for them to clean up the mess
they had created. He just wasn't exactly sure how to deal with
this situation. Showing favouritism would only embitter WInter
and Simmons more while not showing it would be unfair to
Styles and Matthews. Perhaps a quiet word
afterwards....Hornblower swallowed and made the only decision
he could. "All four of you will clear up the mess at the Inn," he
said, "and your wages will be suspended until the damage is
paid for. Mr Prowse will oversee you." He named the ship's
master deliberately as he had even less patience for stupidity
than William and none of the well hidden humour or respect for
the men.

*****

Bush thought that once he got back to the Inn, he'd feel better. All
he had to do was lie down and rest for a few hours, but he was
met by the doctor, who insisted on taking him up to his room and
lecturing him on the dangers of taking things too quickly. He
looked disapprovingly at the disarranged bandages around
Bush's ribcage, and changed the dressing on his head.

"You see, Mr Bush?" he asked, thrusting the bloodied bandage
in front of Bush's face. "You have undone all the good that has
been achieved over the last three days by getting up and
gallivanting around the town, sir. It's a wonder you managed to
walk back here at all."

Tell me about it, Bush thought. He felt a pang of alarm as he saw
the dressing, but he said nothing. All he wanted to do was lie
down. The sooner the doctor's lecture was over, the sooner he
could rest. He knew the man was right of course; he'd known it
when he'd got out of bed that morning, but he had been driven by
a desperate need to try to redress the situation in whatever way
he could. He knew that at least now that plans were under way,
his mind would allow him to relax a little.

The rest of the doctor's words went unheard by Bush. Sparks
were dancing across his eyes now, and he was not too sure of
his balance. Hurry up, for God's sake, man! he thought
desperately. He turned his head cautiously and saw that the
doctor was busy with a bottle of something, from which he
poured a small measure into a glass and set both down on the
side table.

"Now, drink this," the doctor said, "and get some rest. I'll look in
in the morning." He nodded to Bush, and then left him, closing
the door softly.

Bush smelled the contents of the glass distastefully, then
replaced it. He didn't think he'd need anything to help him sleep.
He lay down on the bed without even bothering to undress, and
sank thankfully into the darkness.

*****
When he awoke, Bush lay silently for several minutes, listening
to the sounds of busy activity coming from outside his window.
His head felt clearer, mercifully, and he realised that he hadn't
moved a muscle since he'd virtually fallen into bed the previous
evening. Bush wondered what time it was, then the realisation
hit him that he ought to be up and about, sorting out
arrangements with Hornblower. He groaned, and nursed his
ribs as he struggled to a sitting position on the bed. They still
hurt like hell, but at least his headache had gone, for the
moment.

Bush felt better once he was on his feet and had splashed cold
water from the pitcher onto his face, towelling himself
vigourously. He descended the narrow staircase that led to the
parlour and found Matthews and Styles doing the last of the
tidying up under Prowse's watchful eye. It was clear that Prowse
had worked them through the night to get the place back to its
state before the brawl.

"Where are Simmons and Winters?" Bush asked Prowse, as he
surveyed the men's handiwork.

"They have only just left, sir," Prowse said. "Matthews and Styles
volunteered to finish up."

Bush looked across to the two men. Both of them averted their
gaze, and Bush found himself feeling almost sorry for them.
They had, after all, been defending himself and Hornblower.
Then again, there were ways and means, he told himself, and
his expression was reproachful.
"Finished, Matthews?" he asked.

Matthews set the mop he was holding against the fireplace and
knuckled his forehead in salute, still looking sheepish. "Yes, sir,"
he said softly. "And sir?" he asked, as Bush nodded and was
about to speak.

"Yes?"

"We're sorry, sir."

Bush had to suppress a smile at the appeal in Matthews' eyes,
and the discomfort in Styles'. "You do realise the damage that
you could have done to Captain Hornblower's reputation in all
this?" he said slowly. "Quite apart from the damage you did
here, which was pretty spectacular, Styles, even by your
standards." He looked pointedly at the big man, who visibly
shrank under his gaze. "If I were you, I would not give the Captain
any further cause to regret bringing you on this mission."

"Aye aye, sir," Styles said.
*****

Hornblower had spent much of the night deep in thought. He had
plenty to think about. He had come to the conclusion that Bush's
suggestion had been the only sensible one under the
circumstances. There was certainly plenty to organise. He
wished he could have spoken to Admiral Pellew about all of this,
but they were under strict orders. No contact. So, it was up to him
- to them- to sort it out.

He had decided that Styles should make contact with their allies'
representative to set up another meeting. After all, he could not
be certain that the attack had not originated from within. One
thing command taught you was to be cautious. He'd have to
draw up some fake papers, of course. That would take time, if
they were to be convincing. And then there was the matter of
who would take them. He did not want Bush to do it for obvious
reasons, but he was acutely aware of the man's damaged pride
and embarrassment at the whole affair. He had no desire to
exacerbate that by sending someone else, but he knew that it
was necessary.

Once all that had been organised, they would have to devise a
means of catching the culprits `red-handed', as Bush had
ironically put it. Clearly they would have to use the same route,
and make sure that they were ready nearby to help the appointed
courier when necessary. Hornblower realised that he was
thinking in terms of an attack being inevitable, rather than
possible, but it seemed unlikely that whoever had attacked Bush
would pass up the chance for more information. He just hoped
that this time, the outcome would be different.

******
Bush was tucking into breakfast when Hornblower arrived, and
the sight of his First sitting in front of a pile of sausage and eggs
quelled the concerns he'd been harbouring about how he'd feel
after yesterday. Obviously there was nothing wrong with his
appetite, at least. Styles had just deposited a pot of coffee in
front of Bush, and Hornblower frowned. Surely not!

He walked over to Bush's table. "Good morning, Mr Bush," he
said, smiling.

Bush started to get up, but Hornblower waved his hand. "Good
morning, sir," he replied. Will you join me?"

Hornblower cast a glance at Styles, then at Bush questioningly.
Bush shook his head. "No," he said wryly. "He's just being the
landlord's gopher for a while. I...volunteered him."

"In that case...." Hornblower took a seat, and Bush indicated to
Styles that he should bring another plate and cup for the Captain.
Styles fairly leapt to his task.

"Right, Mr Bush," Hornblower said, after Styles had gone and he
had taken a swig of his coffee. "To business." He began to
explain what he had planned, and how another meeting was to
be scheduled. Then he broached the subject of the courier. "I
have decided that it should be Matthews carrying the fake plans,
Mr Bush," he said, in a tone that brooked no argument. "You will
be with me, at the point where the two paths meet, to provide
assistance."

Bush swallowed his coffee and put his cup down. "Sir," he
began, "may I ask why?"

"No, Mr Bush. You may not. That is my decision."

"Aye, sir." The disappointment in Bush's tone was obvious, but
Hornblower refused to be drawn.

"Styles will meet their representative shortly. You and I will draw
up some plans and maps for Matthews to carry. We will start
immediately."

Hornblower gave Styles his orders when he came to clear the
table. Styles looked puzzled, but knuckled his forehead and went
to do as he was told. Hornblower asked the landlord for pen and
ink, and retrieved some folded papers from his pocket. Thus
furnished, he and Bush began.

Bush watched as Hornblower's steady hand drew an accurate
outline of the coast, but his mind was not on the plans at all. He
had thought that the previous arrangements for the meeting
would have been replicated this time, and that he would be the
one to carry the papers. For Hornblower to appoint Matthews as
courier was clearly a reflection on his dismal failure the first time
around. The Captain wanted to make sure everything went
smoothly on this occasion. He felt hurt and disappointed to think
that Hornblower did not feel he could rely on him again. Perhaps
he even regretted his decision to make him his First Lieutenant?
After all, he'd let Hornblower down before, when the Hotspur had
been boarded. But that was different, surely? And the Captain
wasn't one to bear a grudge....

"What do you think, Mr Bush?"

Hornblower's voice interrupted his thoughts, and he started.
"Er..." he floundered, looking at the map and trying to think what it
was the Captain wanted his opinion on.

"Damn it, Mr Bush, pay attention!" Hornblower said curtly. "I
asked you whether or not we should place information about the
Fleet in the bay here," he indicated the place on the map, "or
here."

Hell! Bush thought. "I think the bay, sir," he said, trying to push
thoughts of being considered an incompetent out of his mind.
"That way, they'd think that we were tied up with provisioning the
ships and making repairs, sir, and they'd think there'd be an
opportunity to blockade the Fleet."

Hornblower looked up from the map. He'd known why Bush had
been so preoccupied as to not hear him, but this was important.
Bush's face was studiously composed, looking at the map with
keen interest now, but Hornblower knew that his decision was
bothering him.
"Very well, Mr Bush."
*****
It took them most of the morning to produce the fake papers,
each meticulously planned. Hornblower had insisted on pinpoint
accuracy. If the capture of the attackers failed on the road, then
they'd have to be caught taking action based on the bogus
information they'd stolen, and Hornblower wanted to make sure
he knew what that action would be. Bush had given Hornblower
valuable advice as was his custom, and had not referred to his
Captain's decision to send Matthews at all. Hornblower realised
that, so far as Bush was concerned, no matter how he felt about
it, the subject was closed.

"I think that will suffice, Mr Bush," Hornblower said eventually.
Bush nodded, and got stiffly to his feet, a slight grimace on his
face. Hornblower realised that he had not bothered to ask how
he was feeling, and was instantly regretful.

"Are you all right?" he asked, his tone softening.

Bush nodded tersely, but said nothing, straightening slowly until
the pain in his side had eased.

"I need some fresh air," Hornblower said, picking up the papers.
"Would you like to join me?"

Bush nodded again, and the two men set off, making their way
towards the coastal path almost subconsciously.
******

It was a cold afternoon, in spite of the sun, and the two men
struck a brisk pace as they walked. Bush found keeping up with
Hornblower's long strides quite difficult before long; the effort
aggravated his ribs, but he was not going to fall behind, damn it!
He still smarted at Hornblower's decision to use Matthews as
courier, even though his rational mind told him it was logical
enough, given the way in which even this small exertion taxed
him. Of course it was better for him to act as back up, but he
couldn't help feeling that there was more to it than logic.

Hornblower stopped at the roughly constructed sea wall, and
looked out at the rolling grey mass. Bush halted beside him,
gratefully.

"The wind's freshening, Mr Bush," Hornblower said. "We could
be in for a storm later, if those clouds are anything to go by."

Bush watched the clouds race across the sky, darkening as they
reached the horizon. In more ways than one, he thought. "Who
do you think those men were working for, sir?" he asked
suddenly.

Hornblower looked surprised at the question, then shrugged. "I
don't know. It could be anyone. Most likely they're acting under
Bonaparte's orders, but I wouldn't stake my life on it. Look what
happened last time."

Bush shuddered. Wolfe, and Hammond. Both supposedly loyal
to the King; both ready to betray that loyalty for their own ends.
Good God, couldn't anyone be trusted? He pushed the thought
aside. "Given that, sir, don't you think we ought to inform Admiral
Pellew?" he suggested.

"No, I don't, Mr Bush," said Hornblower, shaking his head. "We
were told `no contact' until this job is done, and that's how it has
to be. I can't risk this mission simply because we have had
problems."

Problems. Hornblower saw Bush's face cloud at his words and
could have kicked himself. Damn! That could have been better
put, he thought. "William, I..."

" I think we'd better get going, sir," Bush said, ignoring him.
"Styles should be back soon, and we really need to make sure
everything is in order." His tone was even enough, but he did not
look at Hornblower, not immediately. The sooner this whole
debacle was over and done with, the better he'd like it.

 

 

Bush shivered and tried to stretch some life back into his
cramped muscles. God, it was cold! He pulled his coat more
tightly around him, but it did little to dispel the bone deep
numbness from his body. They'd been crouched here, in a ditch,
hidden from view, for over an hour now, and there'd been no sign
of anyone. Matthews was due in half an hour, and Bush found
himself envying the man for having spent longer in the warm
than him, as much as for anything else. He wondered whether
the men who had attacked him would bother to try again. It would
be typical, he thought; spend all day planning and organising,
setting the trap, and the rat doesn't show. And I'll have frozen
myself to the marrow for nothing.

He looked cautiously down the path that snaked its way downhill
and listened. Quiet as the grave. His breath smoked eerily in
front of his face. A windy night too, which made the sound of
footsteps all the more difficult to hear. They'd have to have their
wits about them tonight.

Hornblower was crouched next to Bush, his collar turned up
against the cold, his face pale in the moonlight. So much rested
on the outcome of this, he thought gravely. So much more than
mere reputations. He cupped his hands and blew on them,
trying to get warm. He'd insisted on an early arrival; he wanted to
be ready for these men if they showed up, but he was currently
thinking that perhaps this might not have been one of his more
inspired decisions. He was also praying that his decision to use
Matthews as courier rather than Bush was the right one too, and
he told himself firmly that it was.

First and foremost was the success of the mission. Nothing
must go wrong. Then there was his responsibility to his crew,
and Mr Bush was no less his responsibility, for all his seniority
and experience. Hornblower knew full well what his decision had
meant to Bush, but he knew also that his friend and colleague
had struggled these last few days, albeit on the quiet. He'd said
nothing, typically, but Hornblower had seen that he was in pain
however hard he tried to hide it. A responsible Captain made the
best use of his crew, and Hornblower wanted Bush at his side,
acting as backup, rather than putting himself out on a limb again.

Time passed, slowly. Bush had huddled up as much as the
bandaging around his ribs would allow, resting his head against
the roots of an old tree stump which protruded from the top of the
ditch. He had divested himself of the dressing on his temple at
the earliest possible opportunity, but could not manage without
the support of the other. The first spots of rain began to fall, and
Bush groaned inwardly. First freezing cold, now wet - damn!

It very quickly became a deluge, and the crisp clear night
became overshadowed with dense, low-lying cloud, making
seeing even one another difficult. They were very soon soaked
through. Bush looked across to where Styles was hiding; the big
man's face spoke volumes. Bush sympathised. An evening in
front of the Inn's roaring fire with a mug of ale was a remarkably
attractive prospect.

Over the sound of the wind and rain, Bush wasn't entirely sure,
but he could have sworn he'd heard something. He tapped
Hornblower on the shoulder and indicated with his hand that
he'd detected a noise. Hornblower nodded silently, and strained
to listen. A low cough, coming from further down the path, then
again a few seconds later, closer this time.

Bush risked craning his neck above the top of the ditch, which, to
his disgust was pooling with water. Then he turned to
Hornblower. "It's Matthews, sir," he hissed quietly. Hornblower
signalled to Styles, who nodded his acknowledgement, and
crouched even lower in his hiding place.

Bush watched as Matthews climbed the path exactly as he had
done, finding the experience slightly unnerving. His movements
of that night were being replicated before his eyes and he had a
ringside seat. Then, he stiffened. From behind Matthews, he'd
caught a glimpse of something else. From the look on
Hornblower's face, he could tell that he'd seen it too. The man's
face was hidden under a scarf. Bush gripped his sword and
waited, holding his breath.

Hornblower saw the figure make its way silently up the hill a
short distance behind Matthews. His mind was racing. There
was one man. Where were the others? They hadn't seen anyone
else since they'd been here. One man wouldn't make an attack
alone, surely? Where the hell were the others?

Matthews passed the point where they were hiding without giving
any indication that he was aware of their presence. Then
everything seemed to happen at once.

Bush had thought that the man following Matthews would attack
first, but then two more figures appeared from entirely the
opposite direction - the cliff path! Bush swore. The betrayal had
come from within the cell itself, from within their so-called allies!
Those two were followed by a third, who had started to head in a
different direction, in something of a hurry.

A split second later, Matthews yelled and Hornblower and Styles
sprang from their hiding places. Matthews tackled one man,
Styles another, and Hornblower sought out the one who'd
headed away down the hill. Bush was watching the cloaked
figure keenly.

A shot rang out, then a shout of rage, and then the air as filled
with the clashing of swords. Bush realised that the man who'd
shadowed Matthews had started to turn away, presumably to
make good his escape.

He wasted no more time. He climbed out of the ditch and
launched himself at the man, who heard him and whirled round,
sword drawn. Bush brought down his own sword, to feel the
blow parried by his opponent. Then he found himself on the
defensive, as the man gradually fought his way back up the path
towards his comrades. He was surprised at the strength in the
man's slight frame, and cast a glance back at where Hornblower
and the others had their work equally cut out for them. It gave
Bush little comfort.

It was a desperate, ferocious business, hardly textbook, but
more effective. Sparks flew, men grunted and often the battling
pairs became locked with each other, too close even to use their
weapons. Hornblower pushed his attacker back viciously and
lunged with the sword as the man fell, but somehow he rolled
free and the blade bit uselessly into the dirt.

Styles and Matthews seemed to be struggling too. The men
fought with fierce rage, interspersing their grunts with shouts
and occasional choice expletives as they almost lost their
advantage. No-one noticed the rain or the cold any longer. This
was warm work.

The fight went on, seemingly forever. Bush was tiring now; the
surge of adrenalin which had seen him through the initial stages
of the fight was waning, and he began to realise just how much
hell his ribs were giving him every time he lifted his sword. He
gritted his teeth and pressed on, in spite of the searing agony
which had developed in his side. He could feel himself being
gradually worn down by his opponent. His sword felt twice the
weight it had, and his arms were heavy, but he would not let
Hornblower down a second time, damn it!
Bush swore as a glancing blow from the man's blade ripped
through the sleeve of his coat and nicked his arm, then threw all
his remaining energies into one final, desperate attack.

It appeared that the others had decided upon a similar course of
action, aware that they would not be able to sustain their efforts
indefinitely. There was a roar from Styles as the big man threw
himself on his enemy, using his body weight to bring him
crashing to the ground. Hornblower, having at last dispatched
his man, was helping a winded Matthews to do the same with
his opponent, using quick, efficient strokes.

Bush lacked any semblance of Hornblower's finesse with a
blade, but his tenacity eventually meant that he managed to find
his target. The point of his sword sank deep between the man's
ribs as he raised his own weapon to bring it down on Bush's
skull. The man shrieked, and dropped like a stone, the sword
falling from his grip. His body almost took Bush over with it. Bush
pulled out the sword, and then doubled over, his hands resting
on his knees, gasping for breath.

Hornblower held out a hand and hauled the Bosun to his feet.
"Are you all right, Matthews?"
he asked anxiously.

Matthews nodded, brushing himself down. "Fine, sir, thank you,"
he said. He was breathless and bruised, but otherwise
uninjured.

"Very well, Matthews. You and Styles search these three,"
Hornblower said, nodding at Styles who was getting up with a
grim smile of satisfaction across his bloodied face, "and see
what you can find out."

"Aye, sir."

Hornblower watched for a moment, dabbing cautiously at his
mouth with his hand. He was lucky that his head had only come
into contact with his enemy's fist, not his sword, otherwise it
would have been sheared clean off. As it was, he'd a burst lip
and a large swelling above his right eye to show for his
exertions. He looked down at the bodies with a grudging respect
for their abilities with a sword. Then he turned his attention to his
First Lieutenant.

He was concerned to see Bush hunched over. His sword had
fallen to the floor and his eyes were tightly closed. He looked
exhausted. Hornblower walked over to him and laid a hand on
his shoulder. Bush lifted his head and Hornblower looked at him
inquiringly.

"I'm all right, sir," Bush managed to say between gasps.

Hornblower shook his head slowly. "Damn it, Mr Bush," he said
quietly, "don't be ridiculous." The pain on Bush's face was clear
enough, even in the darkness.

Bush attempted a smile. "Me?" he said, wincing. "Have you seen
your face?" He would have laughed, but it was far too much
effort.

Hornblower put his hand to his face again, almost
subconsciously. "Oh, it's nothing."

Bush paused, as pain lanced through him, then groaned. "Now
who's being ridiculous, sir? Damn!" he hissed.

Hornblower decided that they'd all had enough for one evening.
"Matthews!" he called. "Have you found anything?"

Matthews straightened, a grave look on his face. "Oh yes, sir," he
said. "Plenty." He came over to Hornblower and handed him two
large leather wallets containing papers, a money case and a
letter. Hornblower turned them over in his hands.

"We'll look at these back at the Inn, Matthews," he said. "Let's get
away from here, and see what we've got."
******
Back at the inn, Bush and Hornblower pored over their finds
anxiously. The papers in the leather wallets were maps of the
French coastline plus the missing information which had been
taken from Bush the night of the attack. Hornblower shook his
head.

"That man was taking these papers somewhere," he said
slowly, "but to whom?"

Bush looked uncomfortable at seeing the papers again, and
unobtrusively pushed them to one side to pick up the letter. "A
French Admiral, sir," he said, drawing Hornblower's attention to
the direction on the front. "Could the papers have been bound for
him?"

Hornblower considered it highly likely, but he could not count on
it, given that he did not know the letter's contents. "I don't know,
Mr Bush," he said. "This is rapidly getting out of hand. We've sent
dispatched to Admiral Pellew about the French navy's
movements based on the information we received from the first
meeting. If that information is incorrect, then any ships sent to
attack could be in trouble."

Bush sighed, and leaned awkwardly back in his chair. "So what
do we do now, sir?" he asked. "How can we get word to the
Admiral quickly enough to stop the attack?"

Hornblower thought for a moment. "There's nothing else for it, Mr
Bush," he said. "We'll have to contact Admiral Pellew in person."

Bush frowned. "He did say quite categorically that we weren't to
contact him directly, sir," he warned.

"I know that, Mr Bush. But this is serious. As soon as it's light, I
want you to ride to Portsmouth. And make sure you don't come
away until you've spoken to him."

Bush sat up slowly. "If the situation is that urgent, sir, why wait
until morning? I can ride over tonight, now that the weather's
cleared. That way, I'll see him before he gets busy with Admiralty
business."

Hornblower smiled. "That would be better of course," he said,
"but are you sure you can manage it, Mr Bush? I mean...it's a
long journey and, well, you know..." his voice trailed off.

"With respect, sir," Bush said evenly, "I would not have
suggested it otherwise."

"Very well, Mr Bush." Hornblower decided that he would take
Bush at his word. "I shall expect you back by mid morning
tomorrow."

Bush stood up. "Then I had better get ready, sir. These are hardly
appropriate attire for seeing an Admiral." He looked at his
dripping, muddy clothes with a dry smile, which Hornblower
echoed.

******
"Damn it man, I said `no contact'!" Pellew paced angrily back and
forth in his cabin and fairly spat out the words.

Bush stood with his hands clasped behind his back. He found
he could not meet Pellew's furious gaze. He'd expected that the
Admiral would be annoyed; they had, after all, broken their
ordered silence, but this vehemence he was not prepared for.

"You do realise the delicacy of the situation, politically and
militarily, Mr Bush? Your being here could ruin the whole bloody
mission! What the devil were you thinking of?" Pellew came to a
halt behind the table and leaned forward on it, a look of sheer
thunder on his face. "You have gone against express orders, Mr
Bush. Good God! Or perhaps the both of you did not hear me?
No - contact!" Pellew said the final words slowly and with great
emphasis, as though speaking to a particularly dull child.

"Sir..." Bush said, eventually. Something in his tone made Pellew
look up sharply. There was appeal in his voice and his face, and
something else which Pellew couldn't quite put his finger on.
Desperation? Frustration? He shook his head.

"Well, Mr Bush? What is it?" he prompted, a little less harshly.

Bush paused, gathering his thoughts.

"Come on, man, out with it! I haven't got all day!"

Bush sighed. He'd ridden through the night just to face a tongue
lashing. "Sir," he said, "Captain Hornblower and I would not have
dreamed of going against your orders, had we not felt the
situation to be..most urgent."

"Urgent?" Pellew echoed, his anger melting away and the first
signs of interest creeping into his face.

"Yes, sir. We have discovered that our `allies' are not reliable, sir.
We were betrayed, given false information. We thought it
important that you know as soon as possible." Bush handed
Pellew the things which Matthews and Styles had found on the
men's bodies the previous night. "I believe these will explain the
situation in more detail, sir," he said.

Pellew took the items and sat down at the table, pulling a light
close to him so that he could better see the papers as he spread
them out. "And a letter from Captain Hornblower, I see," he said,
thoughtfully.

"Yes, sir. The Captain thought it best to send as full a report as
possible, whilst he had the opportunity."

Pellew broke the seal on Hornblower's letter. Bush stood at the
opposite end of the table, looking slightly uncomfortable. "Well,
sit down, Mr Bush," Pellew said, indicating a chair without
looking up. "It looks like this is going to take a while."

Bush complied, slowly. His side was still throbbing from his time
in the saddle; a journey that should have taken no more than
three hours had taken more than five, cross country in semi
darkness, and he was not relishing the thought of the return trip.
He also had an idea of the contents of Hornblower's letter, and
was more than a little nervous of the Admiral's response to what
had happened.

Pellew studied the papers, the maps and the plans carefully.
"These were taken from you on the night of the second
rendezvous, Mr Bush?" he asked.

Bush swallowed. "Yes, sir."

Pellew noticed the awkwardness in Bush's tone, and did not
press the issue further.

"They were to be taken to a third party last night. We do not know
who that is, as yet, sir. Captain Hornblower assumed that they
were to be used to plan an attack on the Fleet."

"Quite so," said Pellew. "And these papers..." he shuffled through
them and waved the appropriate ones at Bush, "these contain
false information intended to deceive us as to the French fleet's
movements?"

"Yes, sir, we think so. If our own information was to be used
against us, it is logical to assume that we would not be provided
with accurate intelligence."

"Hmm," Pellew mused. "And this letter. Addressed to one of the
French admirals. That would seem to confirm your suspicions,
Mr Bush."

Bush nodded. "Captain Hornblower and I thought it best I see
you before our first dispatch was acted upon, sir," he said slowly.
"If a squadron of ships were to have sailed to the coast off
Bordeaux, they would most likely have sailed into a trap, sir."

"Most likely." Pellew frowned, and pushed his chair back from the
table. `Well, Mr Bush, your arrival is timely enough for me to do
something about that, at least. I will send word to Captain Peters
that he is to hold position and await further orders."

"Thank you, sir."

"This runs deeper than any of us anticipated, Mr Bush," Pellew
said gravely. "We need to root out the source of this deception
and quickly. I will do what I can here, but I think that perhaps you
and Captain Hornblower are in the best position to take action.
You have my authority to do whatever you think necessary."

"Aye, sir." Bush got stiffly to his feet.

Their business concluded, Pellew seemed to look at Bush
properly for the first time. "Are you all right, Mr Bush?" he asked,
suddenly.

"Quite all right, sir," Bush replied dutifully.

Pellew nodded, then his expression softened. "Have you
breakfasted?"

Bush shook his head. "No, sir. I came straight here. And if you'll
pardon me, sir, I ought to be getting back. Captain Hornblower
will be expecting me."

Pellew smiled. "Nonsense, man. Hornblower will expect you
when he sees you. You are not leaving here without something
to eat; you look like you could use a hot meal. Go and see my
steward, Mr Bush. I'm sure he can find you something."

Bush inclined his head in acknowledgement. "Thank you,
Admiral," he said gratefully. He turned to leave, and had his hand
on the door when Pellew called him back. He turned. "sir?"

"Tell Captain Hornblower that I wish him to keep me informed."

"Aye aye, sir."
******

Hornblower was sitting in the parlour of the inn, which was
otherwise empty. Stray wisps of smoke curled up the chimney
from the remnants of the fire that had burned there. Bush was
late, and Hornblower cursed the man for setting his nerves on
edge. Not for the first time this mission. Hornblower was lolling
in a high backed chair, but he could not relax. He was worried
about his First Lieutenant, and this frustrated him. He could not
allow sentiment to govern his actions and decisions again, not
when there was so much riding on the outcome of this mission.
And not after how he felt when he'd lost Archie....and most
recently Bracegirdle. Yet here he was, fretting about Bush, when
it should have been his mission at the forefront of his mind. He
felt unconscionably angry with himself.

It was after one when the inn door opened, and Bush entered.
His uniform was bespattered with mud after his ride across
country. By this time, Hornblower had taken to pacing the room in
his consternation, and he spun round when he heard the door.

Bush was just about to drop gratefully into one of the comfortable
chairs when the look on Hornblower's face stopped him short.
He saluted.

"You're late, Mr Bush," Hornblower said angrily. "Where the hell
have you been?"

Bush was taken aback. He looked at Hornblower in
astonishment. "My apologies, sir," he began cautiously, "my
horse fell lame, and I was delayed."

"Delayed?" Hornblower snorted. "I trust that the papers managed
to find their way to Admiral Pellew without mishap?"

Bush flinched as if he'd been struck. Good God, he thought,
we're back to that again. Why? For a moment he did not speak,
but seeing that Hornblower was becoming increasingly irate, he
finally said, "They did, sir. The Admiral sends his compliments.
He said that he would do whatever he could to assist us, sir, and
that the attack on the coast near Bordeaux would be halted. He
said that you have his authority to do whatever necessary."

"And this....delay, Mr Bush," Hornblower continued, putting
emphasis on the word, "this took almost two hours?"

Bush shook his head, and not just because he was replying in
the negative. "No, sir. The Admiral insisted that I stay for
breakfast before returning. I made the best time I could, sir. The
Admiral assured me that you would not mind my having
something to eat."

Now it was Hornblower's turn to stop short, even if it was only
mentally. The mission had been delayed again, and that was
annoying; he had been worried sick about Bush, and that was
frustrating, but he could hardly begrudge the man a meal,
surely?

"Very well, Mr Bush," he said, his tone a little less harsh. " We're
meeting Styles and Matthews at the entrance to the caves in half
an hour. I suggest you get ready."

"Aye aye, sir."

Hornblower hesitated, as if he were about to say something
else, then turned and left the room.

Bush stared after him, then sat down in a chair and passed a
hand over his forehead in consternation. Why had Hornblower
spoken to him in that way? And why did he have to keep
reminding him about that night? As though he wasn't already too
aware of how he'd let the Captain down. Bush knew that he was
no Hornblower, but he'd always prided himself on doing a good
job. Until now....

He sighed and got to his feet. He was tired, and his body ached,
but Hornblower would find him ready when he returned.

******

The walk out of town and up the hill was a silent one.
Hornblower was preoccupied with his own thoughts, barely even
acknowledging the presence of the man beside him, and Bush
was still smarting from his earlier remark. Hornblower knew
he'd over-reacted, and he felt suitably chastened, but it had been
said now, and it was too late. He was unsure whether Bush
would accept an apology, even if he were to offer one, judging by
the look on his face now. He took a deep breath. He had to say
something, damn it!

"I hope we'll find something of use here, Mr Bush," he began,
rather awkwardly.

Bush looked at him, unsure if he were expected to reply. "Yes
sir," he ventured.

"This mission isn't turning out the way any of us expected.
There's so much at stake. Much more than simply the attack off
Bordeaux. I confess that if our leads run dry here, I am not
entirely sure how to proceed."

Bush hesitated. "I'm sure you'll think of something, sir," he said,
still a little unsure where the conversation was leading.

Hornblower allowed himself to smile. "Perhaps," he admitted.
"It's at times like this that one appreciates the value of a good
crew, Mr Bush." He stopped walking, causing Bush to do the
same.

"Indeed, sir." Don't bring this up again, please, thought Bush.

"And of good senior officers, would you not agree?" Hornblower
looked at Bush pointedly.

It took a few seconds for Hornblower's meaning to sink into
Bush's tired brain. At first he thought it was more criticism, but
then he saw that there was a twinkle in Hornblower's eyes. He
smiled wearily. "Yes, sir,' he said, as realisation dawned.
"Thank you, sir."

Hornblower nodded. "Good," he said in relief. "I am sorry,
William."

Bush looked at Hornblower carefully, then permitted himself a
smile. "That's all right, sir," he said.

 

They found the caves deserted. Hornblower left Styles on watch
at the entrance and he, Matthews and Bush lit torches so that
they might explore the dim interiors.

It was cold and damp inside the caves. Water dripped from the
roof into pools and their voices echoed alarmingly, forcing them
to whisper. The light of the torches cast crazy shadows on the
veined walls. There was uneasiness in the air, and all three men
had their swords drawn.

There were several smaller caverns lying off the main one and it
was these that Hornblower and the others set themselves to
explore. It would have been a long laborious process to explore
them separately, so Hornblower suggested that they divide their
efforts.

Bush shone his torch into his third chamber. The other two had
been barely large enough to hold six men and were woefully
bare. He began to wonder whether they'd find anything of use.
Surely whatever secrets that might have been hidden here would
be long gone by now?

Bush held the torch aloft. There was a table and chairs, some
barrels, and evidence of bedding in the chamber, but it was a
wreck. Everything was slashed, as though with a sword, and
blackened, as though someone had tried to burn it. Bush could
think of three possibilities. Either there'd been an attack, and the
men had been forced to leave, or they had left and made it look
that way, or they were still here, and it was a trap. Bush's
suspicious nature tended towards the latter. Then he saw a
small opening in the far end of the room, half hidden by rocks
and barrels.

Bush decided to go and get Hornblower and Matthews. It was
not just recent events that were making him cautious. Going into
an opening like that without someone watching your back wasn't
brave, it was foolish.

He found Hornblower at the back of a cave on the opposite side
of the main chamber, a large but empty vault. "I've found
something I think you should see, sir," Bush said as he
approached.

Hornblower smiled. "Care to elaborate, Mr Bush?" he asked.

"A passageway, sir. At least, I think that's what it is."

"Very good, Mr Bush." Hornblower was already walking towards
the entrance. "There's nothing in here of any value at any rate. It's
worth investigating."

 

It looks like it goes quite a long way back, sir," Matthews
shouted. He was in the narrow passage about twenty yards
down, and round a corner. "It goes uphill quite sharply, sir."

Hornblower regarded Bush thoughtfully for a moment, then
nodded. "All right, Matthews. We're right behind you." He
indicated the passageway with his hand. "After you, Mr Bush," he
said.

Bush hesitated, but only for a moment. He was thinking that
perhaps Hornblower didn't trust him to guard the rear, but
dismissed it quickly. There was no hint of such a thing on
Hornblower's face. "Thank you, sir,' he said, and headed inside.

It was tight, damnably tight in places. Their progress was slow,
and in places, Bush feared that they might get stuck. They had to
shuffle along sideways, their torches held as high above their
heads as possible. They squeezed their way past jutting
outcrops of rock and fissures in the passage floor; ducked
beneath overhanging swathes of stone. It was clearly a natural,
rather than a man made passage. Bush wondered just how
much further it went. He'd knocked his ribs a couple of times as
he'd attempted to squeeze through particularly narrow parts of
the passage, and they were certainly letting him know about it. In
fact, he'd had to work his way past Matthews to help the others
through; being of slighter build, he was able to clamber over
more easily and lend a hand.

Hornblower was concerned that they'd get trapped if things got
any narrower, and was beginning to question the prudence of
his decision. To have only one means of escape, and such a
slow one, was generally thought to be a recipe for disaster. A
slight feeling of claustrophobia was beginning to germinate
within him, but he put that down to the stale air and lack of proper
light.

*****
After what seemed like an eternity of squeezing, clambering and
shuffling along, the passage began to widen. Only slightly at first,
and then a lot, until they could walk normally with space on each
side. It was a blessed relief for all of them, but particularly for
Bush, who was aching now.

Suddenly, Bush stopped. "Good God!" he exclaimed.

Hornblower and Matthews moved up to stand beside him. "What
is it, Mr Bush?" asked Hornblower, then followed that question
up with an "I don't believe it!" when he saw what Bush was
looking at.

Matthews' response was much more earthy. "Bloody hell!"

They were looking at a large open chamber containing racks and
racks of weapons; small arms ranging from pistols and
muskets to swords, cutlasses and knives.

"How the devil did they get here?" Bush wondered. "That
passage is too narrow to transport anything, it's bad enough
going through carrying a torch."

Hornblower shook his head. "I don't know, Mr Bush," he replied.
"But I'm more concerned with what they're going to do with them.
These weapons are here for a purpose. We need to know what
that is."

The men walked cautiously round the chamber. "There's enough
here to equip a small army, sir," Matthews said, his eyes almost
popping out of his head.

"Precisely, Matthews. That's the only explanation," said
Hornblower, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.

"And if they've got the weapons, sir, then that means that
somehow, they've got the men to use them," Bush said gravely.

Hornblower nodded. "I think we've seen enough, gentlemen," he
said. "I would rather not risk any of them finding us here, not if
our only way out's that passage."

Matthews was still wandering around the racks of weapons,
looking around him like an awed child. Suddenly he shouted,
making Bush and Hornblower start. "Sir! Look up there, sir!"

Hornblower and Bush ran over to where Matthews was pointing
at the roof of the chamber. There was light, natural daylight, and
a rope dangling from a hole in the roof. The hole was partly
obscured by something, but it was clearly an alternative exit.

"Of course," said Bush. "The passage was climbing uphill. This
must bring us out on the hillside somewhere, sir. Or near the cliff
path."

"Exactly, Mr Bush. Matthews?"

"Aye aye, sir." Matthews grabbed the rope in his hands and
expertly shinned up it, until his head was just about level with the
top of the roof. "It's just turf, sir. I can't really see much through
the gap. Just a minute.."

There were a few moments' silence as Matthews pushed up the
turf that had been covering the hole. Then he gingerly put his
head through and peered out. "All clear, sir. It looks like we're at
the side of that path on the hill." He pulled himself up and out of
the hole, then stuck his head back in to peer down at Bush and
Hornblower. "Ready when you are, sir."

Hornblower extinguished his torch. He hid it in a corner of the
chamber and grasped the rope with both hands, pulling himself
upwards. Bush craned his neck to watch as Hornblower's head
joined Matthews' at the top. "Ready, Mr Bush?"

Bush nodded. He started to climb, feeling the pull of his weight
on the muscles around his ribs. Wincing with the effort, he kept
going. Damn it, but it hurt, he thought to himself. By the time he
got to the top and was standing on the hillside, he felt as though
he'd been hit by a twelve pounder in the midsection, but he
dismissed Hornblower's anxious enquiry and went to fetch
Styles.

As he made his way around the cliff path, he realised that it was
little wonder that he had neither seen nor heard the approach of
two of the three men who had attacked him that night. If they'd
been using the cavern and climbed up to see him there, he
would have had no warning. Mind you, he thought, knowing that
didn't really make much material difference to the situation.
******

"We must find out where these men are and what they're
planning," Hornblower said as they sat around a table at the inn.
"We can assume that wherever they'll attack, it will be soon."

Bush looked intently at the beer stained table. "I think it's unlikely
they'll be on this side of the Channel yet, sir," he said, "otherwise
there'd be no need to store so many weapons so close to the
coast. Perhaps they're using troop ships, sir. We know that the
Frogs have the capability."

Hornblower frowned. They did indeed. He remembered a
freezing cold day on the coast near Brest, watching in horror as
the French prepared three ships for transportation by removing
all their guns. If they'd done it once, they were likely to try again.
But surely not the south coast of England? Too well guarded; it
couldn't be, could it? And as for Ireland, well, the British were
aware of that threat now. "I think you're right, Mr Bush," he said
gravely. "And I think we must speak to Admiral Pellew. Perhaps
his investigations have turned up something also."

"What do we do now, sir?" asked Matthews.

Hornblower considered. "I think we should get back to the
Hotspur, gentlemen. We'll make our way to Portsmouth in
darkness. I have a feeling she might be needed. Matthews,
Styles, you get back to the ship. Mr Bush and I will be along
shortly."

"Aye aye, sir," Styles and Matthews said. They knuckled their
foreheads and rose from the table, exchanging glances before
leaving the inn.

When they had gone, Bush allowed his head to loll onto his
chest and sighed. "It's going to be difficult, sir," he said slowly.

"I know, Mr Bush," Hornblower replied, "but we have to do
something." He stopped and looked closely at Bush. "Are you all
right?" he asked after a moment's pause.

Bush ran a hand over his hair. "I'm all right, sir. Just a little tired, I
think."

Hornblower shook his head in disbelief. He'd been so caught up
in everything that he'd forgotten that Bush hadn't slept in too
long, and that, as usual, he was the master of understatement.
Well, at least Hornblower could do something about that. "A little
tired," he repeated wryly, in a manner almost worthy of Bush
himself. His Lieutenant lifted his head, managing to be amused,
in spite of his weariness. "When we get back to the ship, Mr
Bush, you can consider yourself off watch. And no arguments,"
he finished, as Bush opened his mouth to speak.

Bush closed his mouth and nodded with a smile. "Yes, sir," he
said.

******
Hornblower sat in the familiar surroundings of his cabin aboard
Hotspur, a piece of paper, pen and ink before him. So much had
happened, and he had so much to think about, that he wanted to
get his thoughts and ideas in order before they reached
Portsmouth, and Admiral Pellew. Possible invasion lurked at the
back of his mind, and his imagination went into overdrive. What if
that were only one storage place for weapons? What if the
French had a significant number of sympathisers on this side of
the Channel, ready to take up arms? Damn it, the troop ships
could be part of a much larger fleet, brought together by
Bonaparte to take England in one decisive action.

Hornblower drank from his glass of wine and sighed. There
would be no sleep for him tonight. He had seen Bush fall into his
cot gratefully an hour back, and he knew that his friend would be
asleep within minutes. He would have appreciated Bush's input
on his ideas, but he knew that the man could not have gone on
for much longer without rest, and there was always the morning,
in the meeting with Pellew. Hornblower hoped that Pellew would
not be otherwise engaged on Admiralty business. The hell with
it, he thought, this is more important than anything the Admiralty
could have lined up. He'd have to insist on seeing him, that was
all.

With nothing else to do for the moment but think, Hornblower
headed up on deck. The crew on watch were going about their
duties with their usual efficiency, and Hornblower stood at the
side rail, watching Hotspur plough her way through the inky sea.
Pride swelled within him, and he wondered how he could
possibly have had those initial doubts about captaining the
Hotspur. She was a fine ship, she had a fine crew and a fine first
officer. Hornblower had a feeling of contentment about his
current situation.

******
It was just dawn when Bush next opened his eyes, and he lay
there, feeling more at home than he had done for a couple of
weeks. Then he realised where he was and felt the gentle
rocking motion of his hanging cot, which he had sorely missed,
and smiled to himself. He had barely moved a muscle since
toppling into bed, and felt much better for it. The fire that had
been in his ribs had abated somewhat, and his head felt much
clearer, although he doubted that Hornblower had enjoyed such
peaceful repose. Bush knew what it was like to have a mind so
occupied that it would not allow sleep and felt that, given what
they'd discovered, Hornblower would have had a restless night.
He felt sorry for him, and slightly guilty.

He swung himself carefully out of his cot and went to wash,
towelling himself vigourously. Then he dressed himself in clean
uniform and retied his queue neatly. A vast improvement on the
previous evening, he told himself as he eyed himself critically in
the small mirror. What he needed now was some breakfast and
some coffee, although he thought about this last with some
trepidation. Styles had still not mastered the skill of producing
coffee that did not resemble lukewarm mud, and Bush had still
not managed to adjust his taste buds to it. He opened the door
of his cabin and went in search of Hornblower, and a cup
of..well, whatever.

He ran into Styles as the man was scuttling in the direction of the
galley, looking flustered. Since Dougherty's rather sudden and
unorthodox `departure', it had fallen to Styles once again to act
as Hornblower's steward. As Hornblower himself had pointed
out, it was a good way of guarding against gluttony and the
expense of having one's uniform altered.

Styles knuckled his forehead as Bush approached. "Morning,
sir," he said briskly.

"Styles," Bush acknowledged. "I take it you are
preparing....breakfast?" He made his tone slightly acerbic, and
hid a smile at Style's reaction.

"Yes, sir. Bacon, eggs and sausage, sir. Would you like some,
sir?" Bush could not be sure, but he could have sworn there
was appeal in Styles' voice.

"If you can manage to make it edible, Styles, then yes," he said.

"And coffee, sir?"

Now Bush had to try hard to sound disapproving, rather than
amused. "Very well, Styles," he said. "Well, go on then," he
continued, as Styles hesitated, then disappeared.

******
Bush found Hornblower at work in his cabin. "Good morning,
sir," he said, meaning it.

Hornblower lifted his head from a map he was studying. "Ah, Mr
Bush. Good morning. Sit down, won't you? Styles is fetching
breakfast."

"Yes, I know," Bush said, seating himself, "I ran into him just
now."

Hornblower rolled the map up neatly, and cleared a space on the
table. "How are you feeling, William?" he asked, less formally.

"I was about to ask you the same thing, sir," Bush said truthfully.

Hornblower waved his hand dismissively. "I'm fine," he said.
"Really. I'll feel better when we've spoken to Admiral Pellew
though," he added.

Bush nodded seriously. "I hope that the Admiral can help us, sir,"
he said, "otherwise I don't see what we can do."

"We have to do something," Hornblower said. "We can't just let
whatever it is happen. This could be nothing less than invasion,
Mr Bush. And I will not simply stand by and watch it go
unhindered."

His tone was angry and forceful, but Bush tactfully ignored it. He
knew that this reaction was fuelled by a very real fear of the
potential seriousness of what they'd found, and was not really
directed at him.

At that moment, Styles brought in coffee, and Bush was
surprised to see that it looked drinkable. He pulled his cup
towards him and took a tentative sip. It was bitter, but it was an
improvement on previous attempts. "I'll just bring your breakfast,
sir," Styles said to Hornblower, but he was looking at Bush's
reaction to the coffee. Bush was careful to give him none, and
the big man looked somewhat disgruntled.

Hornblower nodded. "Thank you Styles," he said distractedly,
and Styles went out again.

"Sir," Bush said, as Hornblower raised his cup to his lips, "I'm
sure that the Admiral will help. Perhaps Captain Peters has sent
information, or one of the other squadrons. Someone is bound
to have seen something. I expect there are ships preparing to
leave for France already."

Hornblower allowed a smile to ghost across his lips. He knew
what Bush was trying to do, and he appreciated it. "Thank you Mr
Bush," he said. "I expect you think I'm over-reacting."

"Not at all, sir," Bush said, "but I think we know more than they
want us to. And that gives us something of an advantage."

"Well, we need all the advantage we can get, Mr Bush,"
Hornblower replied, then grimaced as he drained his cup. "Ugh.
When will Styles ever learn?"

Bush looked at him quizzically. "You don't think he's getting any
better, then, sir?"

Hornblower was quietly amused. "Not quickly enough, Mr Bush."
He was on the verge of saying something else when Styles
returned with two plates on a tray.

He placed them with great flourish in front of the two officers and
stood back, admiring his handiwork. Bush and Hornblower
exchanged glances. "Will there be anything else, sir?" Styles
asked. Hornblower shook his head. "Very well, sir," Styles said
with dignity, and withdrew.

Bush looked at the plate. He had to give Styles credit, the bacon
was not burned this time, and the sausage was easily
distinguishable from the rest of the meal. But the egg.....

Hornblower too was inspecting his breakfast with a critical eye.
"Avoid the egg, William," he advised, making Bush smile, "but I
think the rest might be all right."

*******
"Ah, gentlemen," Pellew acknowledged as Hornblower and Bush
were shown into his cabin, "Good morning."

"Admiral Pellew," Hornblower replied. Bush inclined his head
respectfully.

"Well, sit down," the Admiral continued, gesturing to two of the
chairs around the table, "and tell me what it is that you've
discovered. I take it that is the purpose of your visit, and that this
is not just a social call?"

"No, sir," Hornblower said gravely. Once he and Bush were
seated, he proceeded to tell Pellew of everything that they'd
found in their exploration of the caves. As he heard about the
weapons, Pellew's expression darkened, and his eyes grew
thoughtful. As Hornblower concluded by speculating as to their
use, he was silent, and remained so for several minutes.

Bush exchanged uncertain glances with Hornblower as the
Admiral sat there, his expression unreadable. Finally, Pellew
spoke. "Hmm," he said, leaning back in his chair, "that would
tend to support the dispatch from Captain Peters' squadron. He
is, as you know, still holding position to the north of the coast
near Bordeaux."

He passed the paper across the desk to Hornblower and Bush
and then went on, "He reports an increase in enemy activity in
the last two days," he said. "Relatively small scale movements,
but more frequent. Supplies, ships, men. I am sending
instructions to our ships off the northern French coast to be on
the lookout for signs of the French massing near or in any of the
ports."

Hornblower finished reading the report. "I don't understand, sir,
how they're managing to keep all of this so low key," he said
slowly. "If this is a planned invasion force, where can they be
hiding? Some of the smaller ports? Or would they wait, and
mass in the Channel somewhere?"

Pellew considered. "We have no way of knowing that, Captain
Hornblower," he said ruefully. "In fact, we're damned lucky that
we know as much as we do. I'm sending more ships out to the
French coast," he said, fixing the men with a pointed gaze. "The
Hotspur will join the rest of the squadron. Mr Bush?"

"Yes, sir?"

"Prepare the Hotspur for departure on the next tide. Six hours
from now."

"Aye aye, sir," Bush replied. It would be a tall order to resupply
the ship in such a short space of time...."With your permission,
sir, I'd best make a start."

Pellew nodded, and Bush got to his feet, leaving the cabin
without speaking further, and pausing at the door only to
acknowledge his two superiors. The door closed softly.

"What are our orders, sir?" Hornblower asked. He was thinking
that Bush was going to have his work cut out for him.

Pellew frowned. "That rather depends on the situation when we
arrive, Mr Hornblower," he said. "We may be facing a full scale
battle, or we may be able to pick off sections of the French force
one by one. At any rate, I shall strike first and ask questions
later."

Pellew got up and went over to the smaller table at the other end
of the cabin. "Meanwhile, Mr Hornblower, I think we just have
time for a drink. You'll join me?"

Hornblower would rather have gone back to the Hotspur to help
Bush, but he found himself nodding his agreement. After all,
Prowse was there, and Mr Orrock was proving himself a capable
midshipman. He was sure Bush could manage well enough.

 

It had been a close run thing, Bush thought, as he stood at the
wheel with Hornblower. The Hotspur was just passing south of
the Isle of Wight now, its prow breaking the waters with
consummate ease, the wind billowing in the sails. Six hours
was the time you were sometimes kept waiting by the harbour
master for your requisitions, but Bush had insisted that if the
man had a problem with the short notice, he should take it up
with Admiral Pellew. That had sent him bustling into his office,
returning moments later with the papers signed and calling
instructions to some men who were loitering outside. Together
with some hands from the ship, they had loaded Hotspur with
everything Bush had requested, and had finished just as
Hornblower's boat came into view from the flagship.

Hornblower had his glass to his eye, watching the rest of the
Fleet. Tonant was clearly visible at the head of the line, with the
rest of the ships astern to her. Hotspur was two thirds of the way
back. "Mr Orrock?"

The midshipman was at Hornblower's side in an instant. "Sir?"

"Keep an eye out for signals from the flagship. Let me know the
minute Admiral Pellew sends his orders."

"Aye, sir." Orrock drew out his own glass and went to the side
rail, that he might have a clearer view.

Bush smiled slightly. He could see that Orrock had the makings
of an excellent officer. Indeed, there was something in the tall
young man that reminded him of another eager young
midshipman, years ago. Funny, sometimes it didn't seem that
long ago...

"Mr Bush?" Hornblower said his name quizzically, catching his
expression.

"Sir? Oh, nothing, sir," Bush replied, in response to the Captain's
unasked question.

Hornblower nodded. "It seems we have a little time on our
hands, gentlemen," he said. "I think we could best use it in
preparation. Exercises on the guns in twenty minutes, Mr Bush.
Mr Prowse?"

"Sir?"

"Get some of the hands aloft. I want them checking the rigging
carefully."

"Aye, sir."

Hornblower watched as Bush made his way to the gun deck.
With only twenty guns, the sloop might have seemed like easy
pickings to a Frenchman, but Bush and his gun crews had
proved in the past that skill was as much a part of a battle as the
number of guns on a ship. He knew that the crew had no real
need of extra drill, but it would give them something to focus on,
and it was well to be ready. After all, France was not that far
away...

"Clear for action!" Hornblower gave the order, and the ship
sprang into furious activity. He watched as the preparations were
made, sand was scattered, guns primed and run out, the
mainmast braced. Hands ran back and forth in purposeful hurry.
Then Bush mounted the steps and stood beside Hornblower.

"Nine and a half minutes, sir."

Hornblower looked at Bush. That was the quickest they'd ever
cleared. "Congratulations, Mr Bush," he said warmly.

"Sir." Bush's face was studiously composed, but Hornblower
knew that he was proud of the crew's achievement.

"Let's hope we can repeat that when we need to, Mr Bush."
Hornblower said.
********
"Well, Captain Hornblower," Pellew said that evening, "it appears
that the French are making their move." He handed Hornblower
a glass of wine and indicated that he should sit. On the table
were papers and a map. "I received word from Captain Peters
that there are five ships on their way north from Bordeaux."

Hornblower nodded, and Pellew traced a line with his finger from
Bordeaux to the squadron's current position. "Here, sir," Pellew
said. "If Peters is right, then we should be in a position to
intercept them within the next twenty four hours."

"Any sign of troop ships, sir?" Hornblower asked, thinking of the
weapons they had found.

"Peters made no mention of it," Pellew replied. "I should have
thought he would have done so. No, I expect that these ships are
carrying supplies and some men, but that the troop ships will
follow later, if indeed there are any." He paused, and studied the
map carefully.

"Perhaps they have them hidden in one of the smaller inlets, sir,"
Hornblower suggested. "They ride high, so they would not need
such deep water, even if they were full of men."

"Hmm," Pellew said thoughtfully. "Very well, Mr Hornblower. Let
us get this mission out of the way first, shall we? And if you are
successful," he smiled, "then I'll send you hunting for the troop
ships."

"Thank you, sir."
*********

It was Orrock who saw that the flagship was signalling early the
next morning. Bush was on watch, but was on the gun deck,
overseeing the crews as they went through their paces. He was
determined that nothing be left to chance. Hornblower had
retired to his cabin late the previous night, on Bush's insistence.
They were sailing in waters off the northern coast of France, and
there was a palpable air of anticipation on board.

Orrock ran to Bush. "Sir!" he said quickly.

Bush looked up from where he was peering at the gunners' aim
through a port. "Yes, Mr Orrock?"

"Flagship signalling, sir. Enemy ships sighted off the starboard
quarter, sir."

Bush straightened himself. "Very well. I'll inform the Captain.
Keep on watching, Mr Orrock."

"Aye, sir."

Bush knocked on Hornblower's door, and was kept waiting only
a few seconds before the voice within called "Enter."

He went in and saw that Hornblower was just shrugging on his
jacket. It was clear from his eyes that he had not long been
awake, but otherwise, he was immaculate.

"Good morning, Mr Bush," Hornblower said, pulling the jacket
straight. "Will you join me for some breakfast?"

Bush shook his head. "My apologies, sir, but Mr Orrock has just
reported that the flagship has signalled."

"And?" Hornblower was instantly on the alert.

"Enemy ships sighted, sir. Starboard quarter."

Hornblower was already on his way out of the door. "Very well, Mr
Bush," he said briskly, and headed towards the deck.

****
"I can see them sir!" Orrock said, as Bush and Hornblower
approached. He had not taken his eye from the glass, but had
heard their footsteps. "Five of them, two ships of the line, three
frigates, sir. They're still a way off, but they're getting closer."

Hornblower pulled out his own glass and put it to his eye. Orrock
was exactly right. They were getting closer. And fast. Within range
of the squadron in about fifteen minutes. He moved the glass
towards the Tonant. More signal flags were flying now...

"'All ships form line astern to flagship', sir," Orrock said swiftly.

"Thank you, Mr Orrock," Hornblower said, without mentioning that
he could see perfectly well for himself. "Mr Prowse!"

The master turned to face Hornblower. "sir?"

"We will form line astern to the Endurance," Hornblower ordered.
"Quickly as you can."

"Aye, sir," Prowse said, and relayed the instruction to the
helmsman.

"Mr Bush?"

Bush pocketed his glass. "Sir?"

"Let us see if the crew can repeat their last performance. Clear
for action!"

******
This was the part of a battle that Bush hated more than anything.
The waiting. Waiting and watching as the ships manouvered
into position, the guns were run out, and everyone tried to
anticipate who was going to fire the first shot. He could feel his
heart begin to beat faster, the adrenalin start to flow, and he saw
the look on the faces of the crew; not so much nervousness as
wanting to get started, to do what they were trained to do.

Hornblower had his glass clamped to his eye, waiting for a
signal from the flagship. He knew Pellew would not engage the
enemy until he thought the time was exactly right. He did not,
however, need his glass to see that the 40 gun; the Coeur de
Lyon, he saw it was called, was lining up alongside Hotspur. It
seemed that, in this fight, the Hotspur had picked the short
straw.

"Engage the enemy."

That was all Hornblower needed. "Mr Bush!" he shouted.

"Aye, sir!" Bush turned to the gunners. "Fire!" he barked, and the
world suddenly exploded in a cacophony of noise, smoke and
chaos.

He saw the shots from the 9 pounders thud into the hull and
decking of the Coeur, shattering gunports and sending men
flying. The gunners were aiming well, taking out masts and guns
first, making each shot count. And they needed to, because the
Coeur's guns were 12 pounders, and she had many more of
them.

Shot tore into the sheets and sails above his head, bringing
down rigging and sails like tattered wings. Bush ducked as reef
tackles thudded down onto the deck, then headed along the gun
deck, shouting above the din, giving orders to the gunners. He
squinted through a gun port as number four crew were
reloading, and saw that the mizzen mast of the Coeur had all but
been shot away. Then he turned, took a few paces, and suddenly
flung himself to the deck, as a shot shattered the port, taking out
the gun and the entire crew in a nightmare entanglement of
metal and bodies.

Bush felt the impact jarr through him, and yelped at the pain in
his ribs. Then he felt something warm and horrible splatter
across his back. He knew instantly what it was, and swallowed
back bile. He'd been lucky to be far enough away to throw
himself clear. Number four crew had not. He scrambled to his
feet and carried on, the smoke from the guns drifting across the
deck in a choking, seething mass.

Hornblower watched as the two ships drifted closer together. If
their main masts collided, the guns would be useless, and
there'd be boarders. The other ships in the squadron were
clearly equally busy, although they at least were more evenly
matched. Hornblower was afraid that his ship would end up as
matchwood before the end of the day, no matter how well his
men fought. "Mr Prowse!' he yelled.

The master ran to him, sweating and breathless. "Sir!"

"Bring us to port. We need to get away from her, or we'll collide!"

Prowse shook his head. "I can't sir, she's not steering! It's all
shot to hell, sir!"

Hornblower was horrified. "Set men to work to make repairs, Mr
Prowse. I don't want us helpless!"

"Aye, sir!" Prowse hurried off, to be replaced at Hornblower's
side by Bush.

"sir!" Bush said. He was equally breathless, and sweat trickled
down his powder stained face. "Number four crew's dead, sir.
The gun's useless. We're doing our best, sir, but we've got our
work cut out for us."

Hornblower sighed. "I know that, Mr Bush. But we must keep
going, at least until we can steer again. For the moment, we're
stuck here, and I'm damned if I'm going to let the French take us,
or this ship."

"Aye aye, sir." Bush turned to leave and winced slightly.

Hornblower heard him, and turned too. Then he saw that the
back of Bush's jacket was full of blood. "You're not hurt?" he
asked anxiously, horrified.

Bush looked surprised for a moment, until it registered with him
what Hornblower was referring to. "Oh, no sir," he said darkly.
"I'm fine." He was about to go back to the gun deck when there
was an almighty groan of timbers from aloft, a warning yell, and
a crash which juddered the entire ship.

"Damn!" Hornblower swore, as he disentangled himself from the
side rail, where he'd been thrown.

"Sir!' Bush shouted urgently. "The masts, sir!"

Hornblower looked up to see what he had feared most; the two
masts twisted together at the cross trees. The guns stopped;
firing them would cause as much damage to your own ship at
this range. He could hear the French captain yelling orders. He
could see him through the smoke, he was so close. Hornblower
yelled. "Prepare to repel boarders! Marines, to me!" He snatched
his sword from his scabbard and readied his pistol.

Bush ran back to the gun deck, where things looked about as
bad as they could be. There was a ten foot section where the
gun ports used to be that was now completely open, and he saw
that the French were preparing to board here too. He drew his
sword, and yelled to what hands he could see to make ready. He
was grateful to see that both Matthews and Styles had made it
through the carnage, and were taking their places nearby.

Suddenly there was a roar, and the French cascaded over the
sides of the Coeur, and scrambled at the Hotspur's netting.
Instantly there was the sound of musket fire as the Marines
poured their shot into the enemy. Bush saw several men fall;
some checked, whilst others carried on, climbing over their own
dead, swords raised.

Bush ran forward, his sword in his hand. A man attacked. Bush
struck, parried and struck again, finding his target. The man fell,
and Bush did not wait to see if he were dead. He turned his
attention elsewhere, to a French officer who was shouting
orders. He heard Matthews' voice shouting something behind
him, but over the rest of the melee, he couldn't make out what it
was. The officer had seen him too, and was making his way
calmly towards him. Bush stood his ground and waited.

Hornblower was in the thick of things amidships. He had fired
his pistol at a man in an officer's uniform and saw him drop, but
there was no time to reload. The Marines continued to pour
volley after volley of musket balls into the French, but they just
seemed to keep on coming. Hornblower brought the butt of his
pistol down on a head, like a club, then felt it knocked out of his
hand and heard it clatter uselessly across the deck.

Hornblower brought up his sword to deflect a strike from another
attacker, then dispatched him with quick, efficient lunges. He
risked a sideways glance as the man fell, shouted a warning to
Prowse to watch his back, then his attention was occupied by
another Frenchman, who made straight for him. Hornblower was
fully aware that his rank made him a very desirable target.

Bush had been fighting the French officer for some time. He was
good; damned good, and it took a great deal of effort and
concentration on Bush's part to stay clear of the man's cuts and
lunges. Sword blades clashed together, and sparks flew. Bush
threw his weight forward suddenly and knocked his opponent off
balance. The man fell, and Bush was just about to finish him off
when he saw a glint of metal. He leapt back, in time to avoid his
legs being sliced from under him by the scything arc of the
Frenchman's sword. His opponent, meanwhile, scrambled to
his feet and began a fresh assault. Bush knew he was on the
defensive. His enemy was gradually attempting to wear him
down, until he made that one final, fatal error.

Hornblower glanced around swiftly, scanning the groups of
fighting men. Orrock had assisted in the dispatch of the officer,
and now Hornblower was looking for his French counterpart, the
Coeur's captain. Find him, and the battle would be over more
quickly, one way or another. He knew that his men could not go
on like this indefinitely; they were clearly outnumbered. He saw
his quarry, looking down at the Marine he had just killed, and ran
in that direction.

The captain of the Coeur turned, and a smile creased his lips; a
slow, humourless smile. He raised his sword in a mock salute,
but Hornblower was in no mood for preliminaries, sincere or
otherwise. He slashed savagely with his sword, but the blow
was easily parried. The French captain laughed as he dodged
another blow, and a red mist of anger seemed to descend upon
Hornblower. His features locked in grim determination, he
attacked with all the strength he could muster.

*****
It was desperation that kept Bush going; desperation, instinct,
and a great deal of luck. He was tiring fast now, and every part of
him ached. His muscles seemed to burn with exhaustion
He blinked sweat from his eyes. The French officer had sensed
his advantage, driving Bush back towards the side rail.

Bush knew what the man was planning. He'd be driven back so
that he had no retreat, and then either killed or pushed
overboard, where he was sure to drown, trapped between the
two ships.

He never reached the rail. He was backing up towards it,
parrying blow after blow, feeling his blade juddering with every
impact, when he lost his footing and fell. He fell over the body of
a gunner, and lay sprawled on the deck, gasping for breath. He
heard a roar of triumph from the French officer amid the
pounding in his brain. Realising he was as good as dead, Bush
closed his eyes; lunged blindly, wildly with his sword, and waited
for the fatal blow.

He opened his eyes a moment later, hardly able to believe he
was still alive. He wondered where the officer was at first, and
then looked down. The Fenchman lay dead at his feet, and his
sword was bloodied almost to the hilt. Bewildered, Bush stared
at the weapon, then a feeling of relief and grim satisfaction
swept over him.

At first, he could not move; he was shaking too badly. He waited,
knowing that it would pass quickly enough. It was simply a
reaction to sustained and intense exertion and effort, but it left
him feeling almost completely drained of energy. Then he
dragged himself to his feet, thinking how heavy his legs and
arms felt.

******
Hornblower was struggling. The French captain was an excellent
swordsman, and had found his mark on Hornblower's right arm,
which meant he was now finding using his sword difficult. The
pain slowed his movements down, and he was grateful that he
had been quicker on his feet than his opponent, otherwise it
would already have been over.

The big man shoved Hornblower hard, and his back slammed
into the mainmast, winding him. He doubled over, dragging in
lungfuls of air like a stranded fish, although he did not fall.
Nevertheless, he lost his grip on his sword, and it clattered to the
deck as he realised that this was it. His left hand came up to
clutch his right arm, and he straightened up painfully,
determined that he was going to die looking straight into the
eyes of his enemy. Hornblower watched as the captain smiled in
triumph and raised his sword for the last time. Then he heard a
shout, and a pistol shot.

Bush had seen Hornblower hit the mast and drop his sword,
and had run up the steps from the gun deck, his weariness
momentarily forgotten. Now Hornblower saw Bush standing a
few paces away, behind the dead captain, his pistol still in his
hand, and relief washed over him. Hornblower sank slowly to his
knees, seeing the deck begin to tilt, and Bush went to him, with
an anxious look on his face.

"Sir?" Bush asked breathlessly. "Are you all right?"

Hornblower nodded weakly. "Just..nicked my arm, Mr Bush,
that's all. And thank you," he said, lifting his head.

Bush pulled Hornblower's hand away from his wounded arm. It
was not a large wound, but it looked deep, and there was a lot of
blood. "I think you should get the doctor to look at that, sir," he
said. "It looks like it will need stitching."

Hornblower closed his eyes for a moment, as giddiness passed
over him. When he opened them, he waited until Bush's outline
focussed properly, then said, "I think...I think you had better
oversee the Coeur's surrender, Mr Bush."

Bush nodded doubtfully, and helped Hornblower to sit back, so
that he was leaning against the mast. "Very well, sir," he said,
and started to get to his feet.

"Mr Bush?"

"Sir?" Bush's face was all concern again.

"Your intervention was most timely."

Bush managed a rueful smile. "An improvement on last time,
sir," he said tiredly, and headed towards the wheel, where
Matthews and Styles, Orrock and Prowse were organising the
French prisoners. They had seen their captain fall, and had lost
all stomach for the fight.

Hornblower leaned his head back against the mast and sighed.
He knew exactly what Bush had been talking about just then. The
night Hotspur had been boarded, when he had been unable to
shoot Wolfe. He realised that he was surprised that Bush should
still dwell so much on such things, and suddenly the fact that he
was surprised troubled him.

 

Some time later, Admiral Pellew greeted Hornblower in his cabin
aboard the Tonnant. The aftermath of the battle was still very
much in evidence; most of the furniture was still packed away,
and where the small windows had been at the stern of the ship,
there was now a gaping hole. The debris had been swept and
cleared, but the scarred floor was still visible.

"A satisfactory morning's work, Mr Hornblower," Pellew said
briskly.

"Indeed, sir," Hornblower replied. His arm had been stitched and
bandaged, and was now encased in a sling. It hurt like hell, but
Hornblower had insisted that he had no time to waste lying in
sick bay, when there was nothing wrong with his legs.

Pellew looked at him paternally. "Congratulations on your
capture of the Coeur de Lyon," he said warmly. "No mean feat, a
20 gun sloop against a 40 gun frigate."

Hornblower felt the colour rising in his cheeks. "Thank you, sir,"
he said, "but it was largely due to the skill of the crew. I should
like to formally recognise their efforts in the action today."

Pellew nodded. "Very well," he said. "It shall be so noted. I hear
that Hotspur was badly
damaged," he continued, changing the subject. "How long do
you think it will take to make the necessary repairs?"

Hornblower considered. "At least two days, sir, if the weather
holds. About the same time to repair the Coeur de Lyon."

"Hmm," Pellew commented. "And repairs to the Tonnant alone
will take at least a day. I have yet to speak to the other captains.
Then there are the two other prize vessels."

Hornblower looked at the ragged hole where the windows
should have been. All the ships had been quite badly damaged,
but they had been lucky. Two of the French ships had been
completely destroyed.

"I suggest you return to Hotspur and begin repairs, Mr
Hornblower," Pellew said. "I do not wish to remain in these
waters any longer than is necessary, and you have another job to
do."

Hornblower smiled. "Work is already under way, sir."

Pellew raised an eyebrow quizzically.

"Mr Bush is overseeing the repairs, sir," Hornblower explained.

"Ah," Pellew said knowingly. "I see."

"There is one small matter of concern though, Admiral,"
Hornblower said hesitantly.

Pellew began pacing the floor. "And that would be...?"

"We have insufficient room on board the Hotspur for the
prisoners we took, sir."

"Is that all?" Pellew smiled. "Well, Mr Hornblower, I am sure we
can arrange something. Leave that with me. I want the Hotspur
ready to track down those troop ships as soon as possible."

"Thank you, sir." Hornblower had been concerned about trying to
hold many prisoners. It had been bad enough with the
Bonapartes on board. Added to that,the memory of what had
happened on board Reknown was still vivid. Hornblower was not
prepared to take such a risk again.

"Now that our business is concluded, Mr Hornblower," Pellew
said, his tone becoming warmer and more concerned, "how is
your arm?"

Hornblower looked at the sling. "Sore, sir," he understated, "but
the doctor says it will mend quick enough."

"I am glad to hear it," Pellew said. "I should hate to think that my
whist partner had his prodigeous talents curtailed by such an
injury."

Hornblower smiled. "Indeed not, sir. I will endeavour not to let
you down."

******

Bush surveyed the bustling activity on board the Hotspur with a
sense of tired satisfaction. Once the Coeur de Lyon had
surrendered, and the prisoners placed under heavy guard
below, he had immediately set to work on the repairs, leaving
Hornblower to report to Admiral Pellew.

He had paced slowly up and down the deck, checking the
progress of the work, sorting out difficulties and ensuring
everything went smoothly. Now he was standing at the side rail,
looking at the other ships, thinking that they had once more had
a lucky escape. He realised that he had subconsciously been
holding his ribs with one hand, and folded his arms to disguise
the fact. The sharp pain that had shot through him when he'd
hurled himself to the deck, and when he'd fallen during the fight
had receded, but his ribs still ached maddeningly.

He had been relieved to discover that Hornblower's injury,
although deep, was not too serious. It had looked much worse to
him at the time. At least he had been able to make himself
useful. Not like before. Bush's thoughts turned to the night they'd
been boarded. His inability to act then had almost lost them the
ship. Imagine if he had hesitated today....

Bush sighed wearily, and tried to wipe some of the powder
stains from his face with his hand. He only succeeded in leaving
a smear from one side of his face to the other. He was
becoming maudlin, thinking on things he could not change. And
he had made a difference this time.

He wondered how long it would be before the rest of the French
fleet set sail, and when they did, how well placed the British
would be to stand up to them. The four squadrons including their
own and Captain Peters's were due to meet up in the Channel in
less than two days, and Bush hoped fervently they would be in
time. Otherwise....Bush shuddered at the thought.

Bush saw the Captain's boat being rowed from the Tonnant, and
stifled a yawn. He felt tired and filthy, but there was too much to
do to think about things like a wash and some rest.Once
Hornblower was back aboard, he would be sure to want a
progress report on the repairs to
both the Hotspur and the Coeur de Lyon. Time to go and check
once more on the work being done by the various duty stations,
before the Captain's return. Bush left the side rail and headed
forrard.
*********
Bush stood before Hornblower as he sat at his table in the
captain's cabin. He had spent the last ten minutes detailing the
progress of repairs to both ships, whilst Hornblower looked at
charts of the area and nodded distractedly. He wondered
whether or not the Captain had heard a word of what he had said
at all. "We should be ready to sail by the end of tomorrow, sir,"
Bush finished, quietly pleased with how quickly the crew had
dealt with the damage to Hotspur and the Coeur.

"Very good, Mr Bush," Hornblower said tonelessly, then was
silent for a few moments.

Bush stayed where he was, unsure of whether or not that had
been a dismissal. "Sir," he ventured finally, "is everything all
right?"

"Hmm?" Hornblower raised his head, and seemed to see Bush
for the first time. "Oh, yes, Mr Bush. Fine. I was just trying to
calculate which of these bays and inlets would make the best
hiding place for troop ships. Admiral Pellew has asked that we
go and seek them out, once we are ready to make sail."

Bush leaned over to see the charts for himself. "Is there perhaps
anything I can help you with, sir?" he asked.

Hornblower shook his head. "Not at the moment, Mr Bush, thank
you," he replied. "Just make sure we are ready to leave as soon
as possible."

"Aye aye, sir." Bush turned to leave.

"And Mr Bush?" Hornblower called him back.

"Sir?"

"Congratulations on the progress you have made so far."

Bush smiled tiredly. "Thank you, sir."

*******
Two days later, the Hotspur was sailing along the northern coast
of France. Bush had been true to his word, and repairs had been
completed on schedule. After discussion with Admiral Pellew, it
had been decided that the Coeur remain with the squadron for
the time being, until such time as Hornblower reported back.
After all, if they were on a reconnaissance mission, they would
only be making themselves more conspicuous with a prize
vessel in tow.

Hornblower stood beside the wheel, looking intently through his
glass at the coastline. "There, Mr Prowse," he said to the master,
"set a course for that bay, if you please."

"Aye aye, sir," Prowse responded, and gave instructions to the
helm to alter course.

Bush drifted over and stood by Hornblower's side. "We're not
having much luck, sir," he said, casually.

Hornblower lowered the glass and looked at his first lieutenant.
"Perhaps not, Mr Bush," he said, his tone considered, "but I
would not want to hide my troop ships in a place that could be
found easily either."

"sir." It was clear that Bush did not really know how to respond to
this.

Hornblower looked once more at the bay, which was looming
ever closer. "Besides," he said, "we have only investigated a
fraction of the smaller inlets and bays along this coast. We will
find them eventually, if we persevere."

Bush nodded. An absurd thought came to him that this could be
exactly what the French wanted; to tie up the British searching for
troop ships that were anchored somewhere far more obvious,
because that was what was least expected. He debated whether
to let Hornblower know about this, but decided against it, for the
moment at any rate. He had no desire to make a fool of himself.

"Perhaps, sir," Bush said, settling for an idea which was a little
more realistic, "they are staying closer to where we originally
thought them to be, further west of here."

Hornblower seemed to give the idea some consideration.
"Perhaps," he replied, although Bush thought he sounded
uncertain. "Very well, Mr Bush, once we have finished here, we
will turn our attentions west."
******
Nothing was found in that bay, nor the one after that.
Hornblower's frustration was growing. Where the devil were
they? He was certain that there had to be means of transporting
troops across the Channel; the weapons stored in the cave
system had convinced him of that. The ships would not have to
be large, provided that all the guns had been removed.

Hotspur turned westward, as Bush had suggested, but even
along this part of the coast, there was no sign of anything.
Hornblower was beginning to think that he'd made a mistake;
that perhaps they should just have waited until the French ships
had come out of hiding and intercepted them. Bush's
suggestion had borne no more fruit than his own. He was
starting to lose patience. He stood at the side rail, his glass
clamped to his eye until the effort of squinting down the tube
made his head ache, as though he could conjure up the French
by sheer force of will.

"Damn," he said finally, as the light was fading, "it looks like
they've eluded us, Mr Bush."

"For the time being, sir," Bush conceded. "There's always
tomorrow, sir," he continued after a moment's pause.
"Perhaps..."

Hornblower looked at Bush as his voice trailed off and he shook
his head. "What is it, Mr Bush?" he asked.

"Nothing, sir," Bush said, although clearly this was not true. "It
doesn't matter."

Exasperation welled within Hornblower at that. "Well, I think it
does, Mr Bush," he said, unable to keep the annoyance from his
tone.

Bush sighed. "It is hardly worth the trouble, sir," he began. "such
an absurd idea..."

"For heaven's sake, Mr Bush, what?" Hornblower did not quite
shout. He was tired, he'd had a monumentally frustrating day
and now Bush was prevaricating about some apparently
ridiculous notion.

Bush looked faintly embarrassed. "It is merely that I thought the
French might actually want us to look in such places, sir," he
said finally. "Perhaps they are anchored somewhere...well, more
obvious, sir, whilst we search for some more secret hiding
place." He stopped, and lowered his gaze.

There was a long pause. Hornblower's mind digested this idea
and turned it over. It might sound absurd, but there was a definite
logic to it. In fact, the more he considered it, the more
Hornblower realised that that was precisely what the French had
done. Bush's words cut through his thoughts.

"Perhaps not, sir." Bush evidently thought that Hornblower's lack
of response was a dismissal of the notion, but there was a hint
of disappointment in his tone.

Hornblower smiled. "On the contrary, Mr Bush," he said, all trace
of annoyance vanishing. "I think you are right. There are two
places ideal for such ships. One, the bay near St Nazaire. Two,
the same place those ships were anchored last time, Brest." He
turned to Prowse. "Mr Prowse, set a course for Brest."

"Aye aye, sir," Prowse responded.

********
"So, Mr Bush," Hornblower said, as they sat down to dinner that
evening, "what gave you the idea that the French would hide
somewhere so startlingly obvious?"

Bush paused, a forkful of food hovering before him. "I don't know,
sir," he admitted. "I just thought that the best place to hide would
be somewhere we'd already looked, that's all." He put the fork
into his mouth and chewed for a few seconds. Then he frowned,
and spluttered. "Sir, what did Styles say this was again?"

Hornblower grimaced. "I think he said it was something he got
from Dougherty," he said uncertainly, inspecting the contents of
his plate carefully.

"Really?" He picked up his glass of wine and drained the glass.
"Hmm," he said in relief. "That's better."

Hornblower nodded. "Although his pronunciation of the name
was quite incomprehensible."

Bush smirked wryly, setting the empty glass down. "I can
imagine."

*******

Styles sighed. "I dunno," he said, shaking his head sadly. "I
spent most of the afternoon getting this ready, and look..." He
showed Matthews the tray he was carrying.

Matthews gazed at the half eaten dish, and grunted. "What is it?"
he asked.

Styles looked at him in disgust. "Dougherty left me the recipe,"
he said indignantly. "I thought Mr Hornblower and Mr Bush might
like a change, but they've barely touched it. It's...erm.." Styles
fumbled over the French. "Boeuf..en..crawt? Somethin' like that
any way."

Matthews risked a forkful. "Hmm..." he said chewing, then spat
out his mouthful onto the plate. "Bloody `ell, Styles, what are you
trying to do to them? Poison them?"

Styles looked downcast and angry at the same time. "Why?" he
demanded. "What's wrong with it?"

"What did you use?" Matthews asked.

"Well," Styles explained, "we'd no beef left, so I used salt pork..."

"Good god!" Matthews interjected.

"..and the recipe said it was important to season it well..."

Matthews laughed at his friend. "Styles," he said, shaking his
head hopelessly, "there's enough salt in here, to make them
drink the entire ship's water supply for the next four days!"

"Styles..."

The new voice startled both men and they spun round to see
Bush standing at the doorway, his arms folded and a particularly
disdainful expression on his face.

"Sir?" Styles straightened up immediately and almost dropped
the tray in his panic.

Matthews tried to conceal a smile, but Bush seemed anything
but amused. "Breakfast, I can just about cope with, Styles," he
said coolly, "but do that one more time, and I'll make you eat it all
yourself. Do you understand?" He glared at Styles.

Styles looked at the decking. "Yes, sir," he replied sorrowfully.

 

 

The Hotspur was still a few miles away from Brest, but
Hornblower was already on the look out for the French. He had
risen early, and had been standing at the side rail near the
wheel for some time, leaving Bush to breakfast alone, served by
a particularly attentive Styles.

Bush joined him on deck a little later, and put his own glass to
his eye. "No sign, sir?" he asked, scanning the coastline.

"Not yet, Mr Bush," Hornblower replied. "How was breakfast?"

Bush lowered his glass and regarded his captain. The
expression on Hornblower's face was deadly serious, but there
was no hiding the mischievous glint in his eyes. He smiled.
"Almost edible, sir," he said, "for a change."

"Glad to hear it," Hornblower replied wryly.

Bush turned his attention back to the coastline. It was
infuriatingly clear. He wondered whether or not he'd made a
mistake. He hoped not.

Time passed. Bush left Hornblower to watch for the French. He
had much to do, and he sensed that if they did indeed discover
the troop ships, he might not have much time to do it in. He
wanted everything to be ready if the need arose, and that
included some of the final stages of the less urgent repair work.

Hornblower was intent on the coastline before him. Had it not
been for the bells marking the passing of parts of the watch, he
would have had no concept of time. It was almost the end of the
forenoon watch before he glimpsed something of note, just as
one of the hands aloft shouted down.

The shout brought Bush back to Hornblower's side. "Sir?" he
asked, raising his own glass.

"There, Mr Bush," Hornblower said in satisfaction. "Do you see?
Four ships. You can see their mast tops, just round the next
headland."

Bush focussed the glass. "I see them, sir."

"Mr Prowse!" Hornblower called, without taking his gaze away
from the four masts. "Take us closer, but stay this side of the
headland. I don't want them to see us."

"Aye, sir," Prowse replied, and made the course adjustment.

Hotspur hugged the coastline as close as she dared, but staying
on the safe side of the headland meant it was still difficult for
Hornblower to make out the French ships properly. "Ready the
quarterboat, Mr Bush," he said finally. "I think it's time we went
ashore. We'll see all we need to from the top of the headland."

"Aye aye, sir."
********
The climb up the headland was a somewhat arduous one,
despite the fact that the slope was not too steep. Hornblower
and Bush had left Styles, Matthews and a small party of Marines
on the beach below, with strict instructions to wait two hours and
no more.

The hand and footholds that Bush and Hornblower found as they
ascended were spread quite thinly, so the climb involved a lot of
movement across as well as up the cliff. That made their
progress slow, and Hornblower was hampered by the
restrictions from his injured arm. He was trying not to show it, but
the pain as took his weight went through him like a knife.

Bush could tell that his captain was having difficulty, but did not
say anything, since he saw that Hornblower was determined to
carry on regardless. He thanked God that his ribs, for the time
being, were not causing too much of a problem as he hauled
himself up.

It was when they were about half way up that it happened.
Hornblower was breathless with the effort of climbing, and had
to keep blinking the sweat out of his eyes that was partly due to
the exertion, partly due to the pain in his arm. He wanted to stop
and rest, but of course that was impossible. He concentrated on
the rock directly in front of his face, knowing that Bush was a few
feet below him, but not wanting to risk a look down.

Hornblower reached for a foothold, and found nothing but
emptiness, as the rock he had stood on fell away. He felt himself
slipping and scrabbled desperately for purchase, but slithered
downwards in a cloud of dust, with a shout of horror and shock.
In the split seconds that this took, his mind was filled with
nightmare images of ending up on the beach as a twisted wreck,
suddenly sick with fear and dizziness.

It felt like he was slipping forever. Hornblower only partly sensed
it, until his descent was abruptly and painfully halted when
something seized his arm tightly. The impact seemed to jar right
through him, and he gasped. His feet found a hold on the rock,
and he closed his eyes, trying to calm his churning stomach and
return his breathing to something resembling normality.

"Sir!"

Through the mists in his mind, Hornblower made out the sound
of Bush's voice, urgent and insistent. Slowly, very slowly, he
turned his head to see Bush holding his arm firmly.

"Sir! Are you all right?" Bush's face was, quite frankly, panic
stricken, his eyes wide with concern.

Hornblower nodded slowly and found his voice. "Yes...Mr Bush.."
he gasped. "I...I think so..." He winced as pain shot through his
arm, then made a credible attempt to pull himself together.

Bush waited for several moments, then said quietly, "Just let me
know when you're ready, sir."

Hornblower nodded again. "Thank you, Mr Bush." The
queasiness was dissipating, and he felt a little better. If only he
didn't have this damned fear of heights on top of everything else!

*******
Hornblower was relieved to reach the top, just so that he could
feel solid ground beneath him. He was sitting on the grass
some way from the edge, nursing his arm gingerly. It looked as
though the doctor would have to take a good look at it when they
returned to Hotspur. Bush had insisted that Hornblower stay
where he was, for the time being at least, while he headed to the
place where the ships were anchored, and Hornblower was in
no condition to argue.

He sat there for a few minutes whilst he got his breath back and
waited until his legs felt like they once more belonged to him. As
soon as he felt able, he got to his feet and went to join Bush.
Hornblower saw him lying flat on his stomach, his glass to his
eye, and he approached carefully. "Well, Mr Bush?" he asked.

Bush was deeply engrossed in what he was seeing through the
glass, and waved Hornblower down to join him. "See for
yourself, sir," he said gravely.

Hornblower looked. Four ships, anchored in the bay below, each
empty of guns, judging by how they sat in the water. Smaller
boats were rowing out to them, filled with French soldiers. A
frigate sat at the mouth of the bay, clearly on the lookout for any
enemy activity.

"Looks like they'll be ready to leave within the next day or so, sir,"
Bush said quietly.

"Indeed, Mr Bush," Hornblower replied. "And there could be more
French ships in the Channel waiting to join them."

Bush nodded. "A bigger force than last time," he commented.
"And if there are more ships waiting, then we could be in for a full
scale battle, sir."

"Well, our squadrons have arranged to rendezvous in the
Channel," Hornblower said, "so we should be more than ready
for them. We ought to return to them immediately, Mr Bush, and
report to Admiral Pellew."

"Do we let these ships leave, sir?" Bush asked, taking his eye
from the glass and regarding Hornblower thoughtfully.

"What did you have in mind, Mr Bush? There's a frigate with twice
our firepower guarding the bay. I doubt very much we'd be
successful."

Bush wondered whether Hornblower thought he was genuinely
stupid. "That wasn't what I meant, sir," he said carefully.

"Well?"

"We've done something similar before, sir," Bush said. " When
we attacked the Spanish from the headland using a cannon. I
just thought that, perhaps, it might be a useful tactic."

Hornblower's face clouded. He knew full well the incident to
which Bush was referring. Samana Bay. Renown. Hauling the
cannon up the cliffside...shinning down a rope...being teased by
Bush and Archie about his fear of heights. "I remember a time
when you were afraid of heights, Mr Hornblower.""Nothing's
changed, Mr Kennedy." Nothing's changed, he thought. How
wrong could he have been?

Bush looked at Hornblower's distant expression. "Sir?" he
asked. "Are you all right?"

Hornblower glanced up. "Oh for God's sake!" he said sharply,
unable to keep his resentement at both the memory and the
interruption to his thoughts from his voice. "Of course I am! Why
shouldn't I be, Mr Bush?"

Bush blinked in surprise at the tone, despite the fact that he'd
guessed, at least in part, what was occupying the Captain. "No
reason, sir," he said, guardedly.

"Good," Hornblower responded curtly. "Then perhaps now we
can get back to the shore party and report to Admiral Pellew,
instead of wasting any further time here." He snapped his glass
shut firmly and backed away from the edge.

Bush followed, catching up with Hornblower a few paces along
the track which led back the way they'd come. "Sir, what about
the troop ships?" he ventured, as he fell into step beside the
Captain.

Hornblower looked at Bush. "They'll still be here when we get
back, Mr Bush."

******
Bush stood beside Hornblower in Admiral Pellew's cabin
aboard the Tonnant, now fully repaired and restored to its usual
stolid comfort. He felt somewhat surplus to requirements at that
moment; most of the discussion was between Pellew and
Hornblower, and all he had done thus far was to nod his head in
agreement at appropriate points in proceedings. It was a feeling
he'd experienced before in similar circumstances, but he
supposed he felt it more markedly now since it coincided with
Hornblower's earlier response to his suggestion, and the stony
silence that had followed their return to Hotspur.

"So, Hornblower," Pellew was saying, as he and Hornblower
pored over a map of the area around Brest, "you want to return to
this bay and ensure that these ships do not leave?"

"Yes, sir," Hornblower replied. "In fact, Mr Bush was suggesting
that we attack from on land, sir, using one of the Hotspur's
cannons."

Pellew nodded. "A tried and tested method, eh, Mr Bush?" he
said.

Bush raised his head suddenly on hearing his name. "Er, yes,
that's right, sir," he said. His mind had been elsewhere, and he
was only half listening.

"Would you care to explain why?" Pellew smiled.

Bush swallowed. "We could not attack directly, sir. There's a
frigate guarding the bay. At the moment, Hotspur would not be
able to match her firepower in a straight fight. It would be the only
way of destroying the ships, sir."

"A capital idea." Pellew paused for a moment, and considered.
"However, gentlemen, I would feel happier if the Endurance were
to return with you. That way, we could rid ourselves of both the
troop ships and the frigate in one strike. In any case, the
Endurance will be able to provide a distraction."

"Thank you, sir," Hornblower said, glancing at Bush.

"I expect to hear from you within two days Mr Hornblower,"
Pellew instructed.

"Aye aye, sir." Hornblower replied.

Pellew smiled warmly and then, to Bush's surprise, shook
hands with both of them. "I wish you good hunting, gentlemen,"
he said.

******
"What, again?"

Matthews nodded at Styles' question with a smile. "Only this
time, Styles, you'll have to see if you can manage to sway the
gun without damaging it with your big head."

Styles grunted. "It weren't fair," he said. "It was your fault. It bloody
well hurt too."

"Ah well," Matthews said comfortingly, "happen it won't hurt as
much this time, eh? It's only a nine pounder we're lifting. Think
you're up to it?"

Styles shot Matthews a dirty look. "D'you think it'll be enough?"
he asked, ignoring the jibe, "I mean, one nine pounder's not
going to do much damage to those ships by itself."

"Don't be daft, Styles," Matthews said. "There's the Endurance as
well, remember. She won't have no trouble with that French
frigate, it'll be like a walk in the park. Then the others'll be caught
in the middle. Anyway," he said, nodding to where Bush was
standing at the side rail, looking through his glass, "if you're not
sure, you could always ask Mr Bush."

Styles looked momentarily alarmed. "No thanks," he said, and
headed quickly below for the relative safety of the galley.

Matthews watched him go, just as Hornblower came up on deck.
He knuckled his forehead in salute. "Sir," he acknowledged.

"Matthews. Is something wrong with Styles?" Hornblower asked.
"He seemed to be in rather a hurry."

Matthews struggled to contain a smile. "Oh, no, sir," he said.
"Just making what you might call a strategic retreat, sir."

Hornblower frowned in puzzlement, until Matthews glanced
meaningfully at Bush. "Ah," he said, knowingly. "Carry on,
Matthews."

"Aye aye, sir."

Hornblower made his way to Bush's side. "All quiet, Mr Bush?"
he asked.

Bush lowered the glass and turned to face him. "All quiet, sir," he
echoed. "For the time being at least." He paused. "I think we
should leave as soon as possible, sir," he said. "It's going to
take some time to get the gun into position."

"Indeed, Mr Bush. I have spoken to Captain Sanders. He is ready
to take the Endurance into the bay on our signal. Who have you
chosen to bring on this mission?"

Bush considered. "Matthews, Styles and Mr Orrock, sir," he said,
"along with some of the Marines and half a dozen of the other
hands. It's going to be quite a difficult job, sir." He looked for
Hornblower's reaction.

The Captain nodded slowly. "It is that," he commented. Then,
suddenly, his voice became quieter, softer. "In more ways than
one, I fear. Ghosts from the past can sometimes catch us
unawares, William. I apologise if I have seemed a little...harsh..."

Bush was already shaking his head dismissively, but
Hornblower held up a hand.

"No...hear me out. I have, and I know it.."

"I understand, sir," Bush said, and when Hornblower looked at
him, he knew that he did. Hornblower nodded gratefully. "If you'll
excuse me, sir," Bush continued, "I should make a start."

"Carry on, Mr Bush." Hornblower said. Bush touched his hat in
salute, and headed below, leaving Hornblower to his thoughts.

******
Time and Tide - PART EIGHT
for disclaimers etc, see Part One

Memories were odd things, Hornblower decided, as he stood
there alone. The ones which had been stirred by Bush's
suggestion had hit a nerve, and he still shuddered at the thought
of them. It was strange, he told himself, because there had been
one thing about that time which he did not regret. That was the
way in which events on board Renown had forged a friendship
between the three of them; him, Archie and Bush.

It had been an odd start to a friendship by any stretch of the
imagination. Hornblower smiled when he remembered Archie's
mimickry of Bush. He remembered too, that he and Archie had
almost dismissed Bush as another one of those protocol mad
officers with no talent for conversation or pleasantries.
Hornblower had not known then what he knew now, that Bush
was not only a highly competent officer, dedicated, trustworthy
and reliable, but that he had proved himself a valuable friend as
well.

Hornblower sighed. He wondered at the way in which, after two
years, thinking back to that time seemed only to make his sense
of loss and injustice more keen.

He ought not to have taken out his mood on Bush. God knew that
he had not deserved it; it had been an excellent idea after all, but
it had caught Hornblower off-guard, and Bush had been
unfortunate enough to be in the way. As usual. He still felt guilty,
despite Bush's ready acceptance of his apology; he did not feel
worthy of it somehow.

Hornblower shivered suddenly. The wind was up and there was
a hint of rain in the air, which could only get worse, judging by the
fast darkening sky. He should get below, he thought, and see
how Bush was getting along. It looked as though he'd need his
coat, too.

*****
He was just about to go below, when Bush emerged. He joined
the Captain and touched his hat in salute. "We're ready, sir," he
said. "Styles has dismantled the gun from the housing, Orrock
has the quarterboat and Marines standing by. The other hands
are ready to board when you give the word, sir."

"Very good, Mr Bush," Hornblower said, warmly, determined to
make up for his earlier silence.

"Oh, and I brought this, sir." Bush said, pulling a coat from where
he'd draped it over his arm, and handing Hornblower his.

Hornblower took the garment, thinking that perhaps Bush was
ever so slightly telepathic. "Thank you, William," he said
gratefully.

Bush nodded and shrugged himself into the coat. "Not the best
weather for climbing a cliff with a nine pounder in tow, sir," he
observed wryly.

Hornblower smiled. "Perhaps not, Mr Bush," he said, fastening
his buttons, "but we can't afford to wait. Tell the men to get
aboard."

"Aye aye, sir," Bush replied.

"And tell Mr Prowse to signal to the Endurance. Let her know
we're ready to start."

"Sir."

Bush hurried off to relay the orders, and Hornblower headed
towards the boat. It was all ready, and the smaller jolly boat,
which lay tethered behind, was neatly stowed with rigging and
tackle for the gun. Bush's preparations had been as efficient as
usual.

******
Hornblower thought they'd never reach the top of the cliff. He was
soaked to the skin, cold and covered in mud from the climb.
Bush stood beside him, similarly besmattered and bedraggled,
supervising the assembly of the makeshift gun platform they'd
brought with them.

Matthews, Styles and the other hands worked quickly. The fact
that they'd just finished hauling the gun from the beach below
meant they were not feeling the cold at the moment. They
muttered in low voices to one another as they adjusted the gun's
position.

"Ready, Sir," Matthews said to Bush eventually.

"Very good, Matthews," Bush replied. "Stand by." He turned to
Hornblower. "Ready on your command, Sir," he said.

"A fine job, Mr Bush," Hornblower said, and he meant it. It had
been a treacherous climb, a difficult task to get the gun rigged
and even harder to sway it up in driving rain without the benefit of
a light enough hand to sit on the gun and fend off properly. In the
end, Bush himself had had to slither down the cliffside and go
up again, next to the gun, as it was raised up by the other hands.
He had had to fend off whilst clinging to the cliff face, and there
had been a number of close calls.

"Thank you, sir." Bush's response was typically brief.

Hornblower looked at the gun's aim. He judged the distance
from where they stood to the flickering lanterns he could just spy
from the ships in the bay. "Fire as you will, Mr Bush," he said.

"Aye aye, sir." Bush turned to Matthews. "Fire!"
*******
Hornblower did not know it at the time, but he would be able to
look back on that day's events with some satisfaction.

The Endurance took on the French frigate guarding the bay with
the sound of the first shot from the nine pounder. The gunsmoke
obscured much of what was happening, but Hornblower
assured himself that Sanderson was making short work of her.
He managed to see the mainmast of the enemy ship ripped in
two by the Endurance's eighteen pounders.

Up on the clifftop, the small group had their own share of
problems, when a party from the last of the men boarding the
ships appeared to challenge them. Hornblower considered it of
prime importance to keep the gun firing, and left that in the
charge of Matthews and three of the hands, whilst he, Bush and
Styles drew the French soldiers' attention elsewhere.

Although it was only small, the Hotspur's gun was causing the
troop ships no end of trouble. With the Endurance on her port
side, the frigate tried to elevate her starboard guns enough to hit
the cliff, but had difficulty in bringing them to bear. It meant that
they were little troubled by enemy fire. Within a matter of
minutes, Matthews' accuracy had left two of the troop ships
listing heavily in the water. Men who could swim jumped ship,
whilst others took to the boats.

It appeared that Hornblower and the others had the most difficult
task. It was not so much that they were outclassed, but the
French just seemed to keep on coming. It was a wearing
experience, to say the least. As soon as they had defeated one
group, another two or three would appear. Hornblower was
tiring; his arm felt as though it would drop off, and try as he
might, he could not sustain such a pace. He was concerned, too,
for Bush, who was fighting like a man possessed, but
Hornblower knew that he'd pay for it afterwards. Those ribs still
were not healed.

He was beginning to think that there was every possibility that
they might lose, when he heard a shout from behind him.
Thinking it was the French, he spun round, and his heart leapt
with relief when he saw that some of the Marines had joined
them, Orrock leading. He thanked God that the young
midshipman had a brain and was willing to use it. He must have
seen what was going on through his glass.

It did not take long for things to come to a head after that.
Matthews and the other hands had made every shot on the troop
ships count; there was no way they were going anywhere, and
the Endurance's guns fell silent a few minutes later, as the
frigate surrendered. Then there were no new French arrivals on
the clifftop.

Hornblower lowered his sword. He felt like dropping to his knees
there and then, but he must not let the men see how badly he
felt. He glanced at Bush, who was gulping down air greedily. His
friend nodded briefly, and the pained expression on his face told
Hornblower that Bush knew exactly how he was feeling, even if
no-one else did. Hornblower turned to Orrock.

"Well done, Mr Orrock," he said.

Orrock stood straighter, and Hornblower saw pride in his face.
"Thank you, sir," the Irishman responded, pleased.

Hornblower had to suppress a smile. "Well, gentlemen," he
said, "I think we should get back. Our work here is done."
******
"A fine job, gentlemen," Pellew said, as he seated himself at the
dinner table. He indicated to Hornblower and Bush that they
should take their places.

"Thank you, sir," Hornblower said politely, although it was difficult
to keep a broad grin from breaking out on his face. He glanced at
Bush, who gave an awkward half smile; Hornblower knew how
much he hated formal dinners, but could not find it in his heart to
sympathise. The food alone was bound to be worth any feelings
of discomfort if past experience was anything to go by.

The cabin door opened, and Pellew's steward entered, laden
with a tray containing three steaming bowls. "Good evening, sir,"
he said to Pellew, as he set down the tray.

"Ah, Ogden," Pellew said, and sniffed appreciatively at the bowl
that was placed before him. "I can tell you've been busy.."

"Vegetable soup," Hornblower remarked, as he picked up his
spoon. "It smells delicious."

"Thank you, sir," Ogden replied deferentially, then bowed stiffly
and left the room.

The three men began to eat. Bush was amazed at how hungry
he felt, the action on the headland had given him an appetite.
That aside, it had been some time since he had been able to eat
anything without a sense of trepidation and a very large glass of
wine. He wondered briefly whether or not Ogden could be
persuaded to ask for a transfer, or at least give Styles some
coaching in the rudiments of cookery, but his thoughts were
interrupted by Pellew.

"Now, Captain Hornblower," the Admiral was saying, as he
wiped his lips fastidiously on his napkin, "I have some news for
you."

"Sir?" Hornblower too had finished his soup, and had pushed
his bowl away from him. Bush realised that he was lagging
behind, his thoughts had momentarily distracted him.

"Indeed. That group you were in negotiations with.." Pellew broke
off as Ogden reappeared and removed the soup bowls without
comment. "We managed to catch up with them, finally. They have
been detained and...questioned. Well, all except one."

"One, sir?" Hornblower echoed, wiping his mouth on his napkin.

"Yes," Pellew said, and looked at Bush. "The man you wounded,
Mr Bush. The one whom you reported attacked you first.."

"Sir?"

"Dead, so I'm told. Gangrene. Very nasty." Pellew did not sound
in the least sympathetic.

"I see, sir," Bush replied, not really sure how else he could
respond, although he felt very little sympathy either.

"And?" The prompt was out of Hornblower's mouth before he
could check it.

Pellew raised an eyebrow, then smiled. " It appears that your
suspicions regarding them were correct. The information they
have provided has enabled, shall we say, appropriate action to
be taken..?"

Now it was Hornblower's turn to raise an eyebrow, but Pellew
would not be drawn further. "I'm afraid it's all very hush-hush at
the moment, Captain Hornblower," he said, and there was
genuine regret in his tone. "Suffice to say that the weapons store
which you and Mr Bush discovered has been put to more
appropriate use. These `gentlemen' will not be engaged in the
exchange of information in the future."

Hornblower grinned. "I understand, sir," he said, sipping his
wine.

"Good, good. Then congratulations are in order," Pellew
continued, "to both of you gentlemen. Uncovering a plot, a
possible invasion plan and destroying four troop ships..." Pellew
shook his head in mock disbelief. "Whatever next?"

Bush felt himself colouring. He was unused to such open
praise, but it was welcome nonetheless. He was about to say
something appropriately modest when the cabin door opened,
and Ogden brought in another tray. He placed a large dish, a
tureen of vegetables and a platter of potatoes on the table,
followed by three plates.

"Shall I serve, sir?" he asked, brandishing a large spoon.

Pellew shook his head. "No need, Ogden. I'll do it. Thank you."

"Sir."

Ogden withdrew, and Pellew got to his feet to serve the main
course. Bush thought it looked and smelled delicious, even
better than the soup. He looked at the food in approval. "This
looks magnificent, sir," he ventured, as Pellew broke the crust.

"Hmm," Pellew replied. "The man's got a way to go before he
gets to Dougherty's standards, but I have high hopes for him, Mr
Bush. As a matter of fact," he continued, doling out portions to
each of the plates, "this is one of Dougherty's best recipes.
Boeuf en croute."

Bush and Hornblower looked up simultaneously and exchanged
glances.

"Something wrong, gentlemen?" Pellew asked, noticing their
expressions.

"Nothing, sir," Hornblower said, masking a smile. "Nothing at
all."

Finis