The True Colors: Chapter Two

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?”

“Yes.”

“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.”

“Aye-aye.”

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?”

The True Colors: Chapter One

Here’s the first chapter of the Hornblower story I’m writing. The name of the story is The True Colors. The first Hornblower book was called Flying Colours so the title is a callback to that. Here it is!

-Mister Ed

Chapter One: The Return of Bush

The carriage rocked along the dirt road to Gillingham as Hornblower considered the letter he’d received a week before. The contents of the letter had been hard for him to believe, even if he had hoped for such a message over the last ten years. Bush was alive! Hornblower hadn’t considered it possible. He’d ordered many searches of the Seine River after the powder explosion presumably killed his best friend. He had even searched it himself after Allied Powers exiled the dictator to Elba and France was safe for decent Englishmen to travel in once more. He’d found no trace of Captain Bush, not even a splinter from his wooden leg.

But now a letter had arrived claiming to be from his old friend. The letter read:

Dear Admiral Horatio Hornblower,

It has been ten years since our last meeting. I am sorry that I could not see you or correspond with you in the meantime, but other matters of the utmost importance held my attention. I feared that the slightest contact with those I cared about might endanger them or their loved ones. I apologize and beg your forgiveness for my long abstinence from our friendship. Hopefully you will see in time that my choice was the right one.

I fear I have need of your help Hornblower, now more than ever. On the evening of the 21st of September I will be at the Pickled Keg on the eastern end of the Gillingham Docks just three doors down from the Tower and Keep where you once played whist to supplement your lieutenant’s half-pay. I hope that you can meet me there. There is much we must discuss of personal matters and those more grave that have occupied me this last decade. I hope that you will come, my old friend. It shall not be the same without you.

Sincerely,

Captain William Bush

*

The end of the letter bore a seal unfamiliar to Hornblower. A red shield with a chevron bore a cross pattée in the upper left, a crown in the upper right, and three upward pointing swords upon the bottom. Atop the shield rested a helm with a griffon rising out of the helm itself. Surrounding the shield and helm were the typical vines of nobility that Hornblower never truly understood the appeal of.

At first, Hornblower had been unsure of the authenticity of the letter. He’d been so certain of Bush’s death. He’d attended the funeral. He’d sought out Bush’s family in the hopes of honoring one of his sons or brothers with knighthood in the Order of Bath. Hornblower had previously avoided meeting Bush’s family for fear that entanglement with them might interfere with his duties as a naval officer. Hornblower had offered Bush’s mother and sisters his condolences along with ensuring that half of Bush’s pay would continue to be collected by them for their support. He was, however, unsuccessful in finding any male relatives of his friend. Regardless, for the last ten years Hornblower had been utterly convinced of Bush’s death.

And now a letter arrived claiming that Captain William Bush was still alive. Hornblower could scarcely believe it. He had lied to his wife Barbara, saying that he was going to meet the German Prince Paul from his voyages aboard the HMS Atropos, visiting from Paris. When she asked why Prince Paul was not calling at the estate, Hornblower had stuttered and said it was a business matter not a social call. Barbara had graciously left it at that, but he knew he’d have to tell her the truth upon his return. He only hoped there would be more to tell then.

The wobbling of the carriage wheels made him sick as it bounced over the cobblestone road into Gillingham. They slowly pulled through the town as dusk fell. Flames flickered in the streetlights and Hornblower could smell the ocean breeze. If he cocked his ear just right he could hear the waves washing against the wood of the ships at port. He hadn’t realized how much he missed that sound.

The driver pulled up to the middle of the port as instructed. Hornblower felt the carriage creak as the driver got down from his seat and moved to open the door. Hornblower stiffly pulled on his gloves. The driver opened the door and as he did so, Hornblower had a thought to leave Bush’s letter behind in case this meeting was not with Bush. It was more likely a ruse and Lady Barbara should know where he had gone if he did not return due to any foul play. He cursed and pulled off his right glove to retrieve the letter from his inside coat pocket. While looking at the step down from the carriage Hornblower spoke to the driver, “Wait for me until tomorrow at this spot. If I should not return, give this letter to Lady Barbara.” He indicated the letter as he set it down on the cabin seat.

“As ye’ say, milord.”

As Hornblower got out of the carriage and pulled his coat tight around him he added, “And make sure the horses are well groomed and fed.”

“O’ course, milord.”

Hornblower donned his right glove once more and shivered in the cold. He hadn’t missed this part of the sea. He shoved his hands into his outer coat pockets as he walked away from the sun to the eastern side of the docks.

What would Hornblower find at the Pickled Keg? Was it really Bush who had sent the letter? If it wasn’t, why would someone concoct such a ridiculous lie? Why had he believed it? Were they trying to kidnap him to blackmail Lady Barbara? If that was true, then Hornblower was quite glad he had brought his pistol on a holster inside his coat.

But what if it was Bush who had sent the letter? How had he survived the explosion? If he had survived, why hadn’t he been found afterwards? Why had he waited ten years before contacting Hornblower or anyone else? Had he spoken to his bereaved family? What were the grave matters that had occupied him in the mean time?

Hornblower sighed and resigned himself to finding out within the next few minutes. He walked on past the docks, past the Tower and Keep, and up to the front of the Pickled Keg. He pushed in the door and walked inside.

The room inside was decently sized for a tavern. Several long tables lined the middle of the room with a bar at the far end from the door. Booths were on the right side of the room and a roaring fire on the left side. A good crop of people were eating the daily soup, playing cards, and drinking a sour smelling liquid with a smell that permeated the air. Peanut shells crunched under his feet as Hornblower entered the room looking for his old friend.

There! At the last booth furthest from the door he saw a wooden leg poking out from the seat. That must be Bush. Hornblower slowly walked over, still cautious. He felt inside his coat and was reassured by the feel of his pistol. He turned the corner around the tables and felt beads of sweat appear on his forehead and under his armpits. He hadn’t realized how hot it was in here, even opposite the fireplace. He approached the booth at the end and looked down.

“Good God, it really is you.”

It was Bush. The same squat body and the same face like a slightly rotten tomato. The same moustache and haircut. Bush smiled and Hornblower even recognized the slight angles of each and every tooth in his old friend’s mouth. Bush hefted himself up out of the booth onto his one good leg. Offering his hand he said, “It’s good to see you old friend.”

Hornblower looked at his face and the offered hand. Should he hug him instead? Should he just take his hand or refuse it? After all, Bush had refused to contact him for over ten years! He decided the middle road was best and took Bush’s hand. He gave it a firm grip while Bush moved his hand up and down. Hornblower felt Bush letting go and quickly placed his left hand to lengthen the long forgotten contact with his old friend. If he let go, would this ghost disappear?

Bush extricated himself, but did not disappear. He made a solid thunk as he half sat half fell back into the booth. “Why don’t you take a seat and join me? We have a lot to talk about.”

Hornblower spoke as he took a seat, “You’re damn right we do. You’ve been gone for over ten years and you appear out of the blue looking the-”

Bush interrupted what he felt was a growing tidal wave of abuse, “Stop!” Bush held up his hand and repeated more calmly, “Stop. I have something very important to tell you.”

“Fine. What is it you have to say Captain Bush?”

“Napoleon Bonaparte is back, Hornblower.”

“Back from Elba? Yes I know. He’s come and gone. Died on St. Helena a few years back I believe. I’ve just come back from an expedition where I-”

Bush interrupted again, “No Hornblower, not back from Elba or St. Helena. Napoleon Bonaparte, Grand Emperor of Frogs, is back from the dead.”

Hornblower

When I was a kid my dad and I traveled around in the car together a lot. We’d go to soccer practice or he’d drop me off at a friend’s house.

My family was lucky enough to own a second house about two hours away from our first home. My dad and I would go to the second home on weekends with our dogs and hang out.

On the drive to the second home we’d listen to books on tape in the car. The topics varied a bit. We’d listen to recordings of live storytellers, Greek classical history, mystery novels and a few other things. Our favorite thing to listen to was the Hornblower series by CS Forester.

The Hornblower series is set of adventure novels about a British naval officer named Hornblower who served during the Napoleonic wars. Hornblower’s fictional life is loosely based off of Lord Trafalgar, an English naval hero of the Napoleonic wars.

Hornblower starts off as only a midshipman, but by the end of the series he is a Lord with title and governance over a variety of places.

The Hornblower books are told from a limited third person point of view. The focal character is often not Hornblower, but Lieutenant Bush. Bush is initially Hornblower’s superior officer, but as Hornblower progresses through the ranks he eventually surpasses Bush. Hornblower and Bush become best friends during the series and chance places them together or they always request joint assignments.

In one of the latter Hornblower books, Bush goes off an a separate mission and supposedly dies. My dad and I thought for sure he was only thought to be dead, but as the book progressed it became clear that Bush was gone for good. He never reappeared in the subsequent books either.

As a present for my dad I’ve started writing a few Hornblower chapters for my own book. In my book, Bush survives the explosion that killed him, but went into hiding. He comes out of hiding for Hornblower’s help in a new endeavour.  Since it’s in vogue right now, I decided the new endeavour would be that Napoleon has risen from the dead as a vampire. Bush and Hornblower will team up to take him down!

I’ll most likely be posting a few of the chapters here as they are finished.

-Mister Ed