Chapter Two: Swift Troubles
“Back from the dead?” exclaimed Hornblower, “Dammit Bush! What is this nonsense you’re spouting? Explain yourself!”
Bush drummed his left hand on the table while with his right he took a sip from a beer stein that Hornblower had previously missed. “There’s little time to explain right now. I have a strong suspicion that I was followed here. I’ll only be able to explain once we get back to the others.”
“The others? What others?”
Bush leaned forward out of the booth and swept his eyes across the room before answering. “You never know who may be watching… or listening.”
Hornblower struggled not to shout. He elected to use a harsh whisper instead, “Bush! If you don’t tell me where you’ve been for the last ten years or what is going on right now then I shall count this as a strange dream and go back home in my carriage to sleep it off!” By the end of the short squall Hornblower unleashed he was on his feet instead of sitting in the booth.
Bush’s eyes flicked to Hornblower’s, to the bar, and then back to Hornblower. “We’ve been friends a long time haven’t we?”
“Not for the last ten years we haven’t. And I thin-”
“Shush! We’ve been friends a long time. I’m asking you to trust me right now. I promise I’ll explain everything soon, but right now we need to get to a safe place. Now how did you say you got here?”
“In a carriage. I left it at the middle of the port with the driver.”
“Let’s go there. Everything will be made clear soon.”
Bush hefted himself up out of the booth and made his way to the door. Hornblower sighed and pulled his coat tighter around him as they headed out into the cold night air. He thought to himself, At least it smells better outside of this place.
They walked in silence with Bush leading the way. Hornblower attempted to collect some of the dignity and poise appropriate for a man of his position as they walked. The same questions flew through his mind. Where had Bush gone? How did he survive the explosion? Where had he been all these years? And what the Devil was that poppycock about Napoleon coming back from the dead? If it was true, which it wasn’t, was it the Second Coming or something altogether different? Hornblower decided it was best not to think of such things now. He’d wanted his old friend back for so long and he feared that any excessive questioning on his part might drive the new cagey Bush away.
Still, some old rules should continue to be observed. Hornblower wouldn’t have Bush leading him to the carriage. He walked a slightly quicker pace and easily passed the Captain on his wooden leg. “It’s this way,” Hornblower said. Bush grunted and followed.
They soon reached the carriage. In the dim light, Hornblower could see the driver on the seat with his hands folded in his lap holding the reins. Hornblower waved at him, but got no response in turn. Annoyed, Hornblower opened the door to the carriage himself. He turned back to Bush and asked, “Where are we going?”
“I need to check something first. Did you bring my letter with you?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Where is it?”
“Right here on the seat where I left it.” Hornblower glanced to the seat, but saw the letter had fallen onto the floor.
“On the seat?” asked Bush. He looked at the letter on the cabin floor, then at the driver, who continued to stare straight ahead with his hands in his lap.
Over the constant sound of the sea, Hornblower heard a creak behind him of a roof tile moving slightly in the wind. Bush turned to look at the sound and then instantly lunged at Hornblower, tackling him to the ground. A gunshot blasted into the side of the carriage sending a spray of wood chips onto the ground around the two sailors.
Hornblower picked himself up onto his elbows and drew the pistol from inside his coat. Bush shouted, “Take cover! They’re on the roofs!” Hornblower rolled under the carriage just as another bullet hit the cobblestones where he was before.
Bush joined Hornblower under the carriage. As he crawled under, Hornblower saw the body of the driver fallen on the ground. He must’ve been killed by their attackers earlier and placed back on the driver’s seat as bait for Hornblower and Bush. The two horses stamped their hooves, but stayed where they were.
Between two deep breaths to keep himself calm Hornblower asked, “How many did you see?”
“Four I think.”
The gears in Hornblower’s mind turned. They attackers wouldn’t be able to get them under the carriage with pistols or rifles. If they came down he could shoot one of them easily, so they probably wouldn’t take that risk. It was also unlikely that they would keep waiting til one of them came out. If they waited til morning other people would come out and he and Bush could make their escape. If he were in the attackers’ position that left one other option.
Hornblower asked, “Do you know these people?”
“I know who they work for.”
“Are they the types to set fire to the carriage?”
“Did you bring a pistol with you?”
“I brought two,” Bush replied.
“You watch the left and the rear side and I’ll watch the right and through the horses’ legs. If you see them lighting a fire, then fire back at them.”
Hornblower and Bush waited. Soon, Hornblower saw two boots approaching from the right side of the carriage close to the horses. In the darkness he propped himself up on his elbows. He laid the pistol barrel in the palm of his left hand and aimed three feet above one of the pairs of boots, hoping that the blind shot would hit. Hornblower heard the sound of flint on steel and fired. A split second later he heard Bush fire as well. The horses spooked with the gunfire so close to them. They ran, taking the carriage away with them. Hornblower heard a pistol fire from one of the pairs of boots while person in the other pair fell to the ground bleeding.
Hornblower jumped to his feet. The horses pulled the carriage past the body of the man Hornblower shot and the other man approaching from that direction. Hornblower whipped around and saw a second man fall to Bush’s pistols. All that remained was the one man who had wasted his shot when the horses spooked. The man fumbled for something in his coat and Hornblower rushed him.
Without a weapon of his own, Hornblower simply tackled the man to the ground. He doubted he could overpower him, but perhaps he could buy time for Bush to get up from the ground. Hornblower and the man fell. Another gunshot resonated through the dockyard. The man went limp. Hornblower felt a pistol shaped lump in the man’s coat and then the warm wet feeling of blood pouring out of the man’s chest. He had shot himself with an extra pistol when Hornblower tackled him to the ground.
Hornblower rolled off the man and stared at the clouds over the harbor as he recovered his breath. He saw the wind blowing the clouds away for a bit of starlight to shine through. Bush appeared in his vision next to the star. “We’ve got to get to your estate. They’ll have figured out who you are and will try to use Lady Barbara and your son against you. We don’t have time to wait for the constables to sort this out. We must leave quickly.”
Hornblower picked himself up, “For God’s sake, Bush! What is going on?”
“I promise I’ll explain on the way, Admiral, but we must hurry. Your family’s lives are at stake.”
“Fine. Now where’s that blasted carriage gotten to?”