"There is something you must know if you are to serve under me, Mr. Bush," said Hornblower.
Bush paused, baffled, in the doorway to the captain's quarters. Hornblower had already asked him to serve as his first lieutenant and Bush had already accepted; they had even laughed about their mutual fear that the other might refuse. What, then, this if? Had Hornblower reconsidered his friend Kennedy for the position? Bush had asked why Kennedy was only second lieutenant; Hornblower had replied that it was a matter of seniority. It was an answer that Bush found not entirely satisfactory as Hornblower himself had risen through the ranks past officers with far greater seniority than Bush's over Kennedy.
Hornblower was looking at him expectantly. Bush realized the length of his pause and said, "Sir?"
Hornblower gestured for him to come in. "Come," he said, and his steward, Styles, brushed past Bush with a covered platter. "Let's have this conversation in a modicum of privacy, if we can." Bush stepped into the room and waited but Hornblower seemed not to mean his steward. As Styles swept the cover off the captain's dinner, Hornblower said, his voice a touch softer, "I am--you must forgive my bluntness--a zombi."
"Will that be all, sir?" Styles asked.
Bush thought for a moment that he had misheard, or that it was some prank by which Hornblower meant to test him. But then he saw Hornblower, with a bandaged hand, raise the soup spoon to his lips, and in the broth, the unmistakable curd of brains. Hornblower consumed the spoonful without compunction and Bush swayed on his feet, thinking for a moment that the waters had roughened. But nothing else in the cabin shifted unduly, not even the lantern on the hook. No, no. It was only his own revulsion making him faint.
"I think, perhaps, some port, for Mr. Bush's nerves," Hornblower said perspicaciously. "Fetch a pair of glasses, if you please, Styles. I apologize for not sharing my dinner with you, Mr. Bush, but I imagine it would not be to your taste."
"No, indeed not," Bush admitted.
"Please, sit," Hornblower enjoined him. Bush sat and accepted the drink Hornblower poured for him.
"If you need anything else, sir," Styles said.
"No, thank you, Styles," said Hornblower replied. Styles lingered a moment longer; Hornblower said, more firmly, "Dismissed, Styles."
Bush did not think he was imagining the look Styles cast him as he left; disapproving, if a mere steward could be said to disapprove of an officer. It was as if he feared how Bush would respond to Hornblower's revelation. What incredible loyalty Hornblower inspired, that his man would not only peaceably accept him as one of the ravening beasts of the West Indies, but prepare dishes for him to raven.
"I assume you have questions for me," Hornblower said.
"Yes, sir," Bush replied.
"Well then," said Hornblower, "by all means, ask." Bush tried to marshal his thoughts. "I assure you, I will not hold your fears against you so long as you voice them here, to me, rather than allow them to interfere with your duty."
"Your duty," Bush murmured. "How is it you still serve here, do your duty to the king, if you are--of the Enemy?"
"The Enemy is no proper enemy," Hornblower said scornfully--his scorn, Bush hoped, for the ravening beasts, not for Bush himself. "They have no wit or strategy guiding their attacks. They do not even possess any ideals to fight for, no king and country nor even Liberté, egalité, fraternité. They are senseless, thoughtless, mindless. The only reasons they enjoy any success at all in battle are that they are relentless, and that they claim our own dead in their numbers. No, that is not an army into whose service I will allow myself to be pressed, while I still have any wits about me. I still believe in my country, Mr. Bush, and will defend it--" To the death, he should have said in any normal discourse but instead, he concluded, "Until I am no longer capable."
He was, Bush realized sickly, already dead.
"How did it happen?" Bush asked. "How did you--?"
Hornblower nodded once, sharply, his understanding saving Bush from the need to complete the question. "You recall, in Kingston, when we were granted the prize money for the Spanish ships we captured at Samaná, and our two days' leave with two hundred pounds between us- "
"Of course, I recall," Bush said, feeling a blush rise in his cheeks; he had not thought to hear Hornblower speak of those wild nights ever again.
"The second night, while you were--away," Hornblower said, carefully no more specific, "I managed to get into a duel. I was playing cards and a man accused me of cheating."
Bush shook his head, trying to recall why that sat wrong. "I had always heard you did not duel," he said.
"No," Hornblower said. "Certainly not anymore; I cannot recover from any wound I receive now. That night--I suppose I was very inebriated. In any case, my opponent must have been--ravening." He spoke the euphemism with some distaste, as if it bothered him more than zombi, which he had uttered with only the perfunctory apology. "I died with a sword in my chest and awoke with a hunger in my belly." He took a polite sip of his soup, his civilized image at odds with his assertions. "I have been so ever since."
"Does Admiral Pellew know?" Bush asked. Admiral Pellew was currently Hornblower's direct superior and while he had not been on the Renown, he had been on the tribunal convened to try them and Hornblower had served under him on the Indefatigable as a midshipman. It did not occur to Bush to wonder if any other superior officer knew of Hornblower's--condition.
"He knows," Hornblower assured him. "When he first learned of what befell me, he intended to end me himself, only to find me still myself in mind instead of some gibbering, slavering wreck. He was so overjoyed to learn the news he'd heard was wrong and I--was too much a coward to confess it not wrong at all until his pistol was well put away. I convinced him that I was still capable of serving, that I knew, perhaps better than other men, how dearly we must fight against our Enemy and he has permitted me to do so." He glanced up at Bush. "If you have any concerns you do not wish to trouble me with, I assure you, you are welcome to write to Admiral Pellew. I think he may even expect from you regular reports of my--regress."
"Your--?" Bush asked.
"In time, I will, inevitably, become as ravening as the Enemy," Hornblower said. "This is why I have confided in you, Mr. Bush. In time, it will be necessary to--end me. When I am no longer capable of serving, you must--" He clenched his jaw and reined in his distress. Bush knew his own mouth was open, distress plain to see. "A bullet to the head is best, as you surely know. Fire, if you have no pistol in hand. But you must--prevent me from--actions I would not condone with my wits intact."
"Oh, sir," Bush burst out, unable to contain himself.
"It must be done," Hornblower insisted. "If not by you, then by another. I must have your word on it or I must find a new first lieutenant."
Bush swallowed hard and said, in the barest whisper he could force through his lips, "My word. When it is time."
Hornblower nodded. "Thank you, Mr. Bush. I will rest easier, knowing matters are in your hands."
Dispatches went out and came in; Bush related Hornblower's explanation of matters as plainly as he could, in plea for further clarification, and Pellew replied in short order.
Yes, I came to visit our mutual friend in his cell in Kingston, pistol in hand, Pellew told him. His cell? Bush wondered. They had not been awarded the prize money and shore leave until after their names had been cleared for the charges of mutiny aboard the Renown. Or had Hornblower managed to get himself arrested for dueling in the streets? He had not said. I recall the guard was loath to let me in, and when I bade him leave, he warned me he would have to lock the door. I know it seemed you discovered the ravening problem for the first time when the beasts attacked the Spanish fort at Samaná, but though they spoke little of it in Kingston and reported nothing to the crown, our men were aware. Our friend was to be executed with a number of slaves and natives believed to be ravening, and burned in a mass pyre. I thought to spare him that fate, to make sure, at least, that he received a Christian grave. From what the men stationed at Kingston had told me, I did not expect him to know me, to be sensible of himself. I expected he might attack me, if he had to strength to rise and do so at all.
Instead, he came to attention and called me sir, and said it was good of me to come visit him. I was astounded. I asked if there had been some mistake--how had he come to be taken for ravening, when he was so plainly unaffected. In my joy, I overlooked many of the signs I should have seen: the unnatural pallor over his usually warm tones, the bloody rent in his shirt, the dark circles under his eyes. In fairness, though, I had oft seen his eyes darkened with worry and exhaustion, and he had much to to worry over at the time. I believe he tried to tell me, even then, but I was too relieved to hear him. Much later, when I was calm enough to listen, he told me what he had done and why. I must believe I would not have been so foolish in his place, but I do understand his actions. Passion at the injustices of life moved him to this deadly sin.
Passion at the injustices of life--? Surely this had been no mere duel over cards. How like Hornblower, to call his heroism so much less than it was. Bush wondered whom he had been protecting.
Pellew's missive went on to confirm all else Hornblower had said. Pellew kept him on expectation that he would bring a better understanding of the Enemy to the fight, as ordinary men conversely ascribed motivations too intelligent to the beasts. Pellew compared Hornblower to a hound, as fanged and dangerous as its cousin, the wolf, but loyal to its master even so. Pellew then admitted that the hound would indeed turn feral, and confirmed Hornblower's orders.
It seemed a cruel parody of the situation on the Renown. A good, honorable and courageous man degenerating past the ability to serve, and his lieutenant forced--nay, expected--to take over. Bush could have wept. He had hoped never to face such difficulty again. That it was sanctioned hardly made it simpler.
Pellew's dispatches to Hornblower sent them nosing around the coast of France; England was still free of the Enemy but there were unconfirmed rumors of ravening beasts on the continent. (There were unconfirmed rumors of the same in England, but, as Hornblower reminded him, good King George had been talking to trees since long before zombis had made themselves known in the West Indies: it was doubtless only the ordinary madness of monarchs.) The men were not entirely happy with this duty: they would have preferred, apparently, hunting ravening ships in the Atlantic. There were reports of more than one ship drifting, crewed by naught but ravening beasts with no care for navigation, as if some stowaway zombi had attacked and killed or turned them all. Most were merchant ships on the middle passage but there were reports of naval ships, as well. It was dark news all around.
Bush was not privy to as much news as he might have been for he declined to eat with Hornblower except when commanded to do so. Kennedy seemed unbothered and dined with the captain often. "Do his meals not turn your stomach?" Bush asked him, once. Kennedy shrugged and said, "One can hardly condemn a man for a necessity."
Hornblower began purchasing fish from French fishermen, to ask them for news of the Enemy in France. Bush realized later that his purpose was twofold: though the men were disdainful of seafood, Hornblower could hardly turn his nose up at any source of brains. The beef was long gone and while Styles apparently excelled at capturing rats for his master (a culinary detail Bush sincerely wished he had not learned), Hornblower was looking ever more hollow-cheeked. Styles brought whole fish, steamed or baked, for the captain's dinner. Hornblower and Kennedy ate together constantly, the fillet, presumably, going to Kennedy, the head to Hornblower. It was just as well that Hornblower invited Kennedy to eat with him, as the men seemed uneasy with Kennedy. Bush could not fathom it: Kennedy had always seemed as charming as Hornblower himself on the Renown, and now when Hornblower might have seemed unnatural, the men still respected him, but Kennedy--well. Kennedy made them uneasy.
If it had once seemed that Kennedy was Hornblower's best mate, it now seemed as if Hornblower was paying kind charity to someone far below him in wits. Bush recalled Kennedy being a much sharper conversationalist as well: no more. He seemed much duller now, only brightening under Hornblower's attention. It was as if all the signs for which Hornblower had instructed Bush to watch in himself were playing out in Kennedy.
On the eve when Bush finally worked up the courage to confront Hornblower about Kennedy, he received a kind of confirmation even as he entered the captain's cabin. Hornblower and Kennedy sat at the table, the remains of their dinner between them, and Bush could not help but notice that it was upon Kennedy's plate that the fish head lay. Kennedy, guileless, did not even try to hide it from him.
"Is something troubling you, Mr. Bush?" said Hornblower, looking up from his dinner with a smile.
Bush glanced at Kennedy and wet his lips; he nearly voiced the accusation there but at the last moment, pity stayed him. Kennedy, though his eyes were darkened and dulled, seemed more innocent than threatening: a dumb beast, as incapable of sin as of thought. "A private matter, sir," Bush said to Hornblower.
"Ah," said Hornblower. He cleared his throat and said, "If you will excuse us, Archie?"
"Oh," said Kennedy. "Very well. I suppose I'll see you on deck later?"
"Of course," Hornblower said gently. Kennedy departed, and Hornblower looked at Bush expectantly.
"It's him, isn't it, sir," Bush said. "You're protecting him. He's the zombi." Hornblower did not answer and so all of Bush's reasoning poured out. "This is why he is not your first lieutenant, you could not trust such a position to him. And--I should have seen--how badly wounded he was in the West Indies and your devotion to him, your--" Bush recalled Admiral Pellew's words. "Your passion at the injustices of life," he quoted, "moved you to some deadly sin. What did you do to him?"
Hornblower laid down his knife and fork and rose from the table. His face was so terrible than Bush desperately wanted to take a step back, but he held his ground. Hornblower turned from him and went to the sideboard to pour port for them both. He drank his glass entire before handing one off to Bush. Bush held the drink but did not take so much as a sip.
"It seemed," said Hornblower, "so monstrously unfair. We had just come from fighting an Enemy who would not die, and there lay Archie on what even Dr. Clive could not deny would be his deathbed, a ball in his breast, blood in his mouth--you should know even better than I, you lay alongside him." Hornblower made a slashing motion across his own chest, a reference to the blow of a Spanish sword that had landed Bush under Dr. Clive's care. "I could not stand to see it--his suffering--his death." Hornblower closed his eyes. "We had only just made port; it was before all our reports had been read, and charges brought against us. I went ashore without leave and demanded of any African or Indian I could find that they tell me how to make a man a zombi.
"Eventually someone took me to a heathen priest of some sort, a black African but so old he had white hair. He had a servant and the servant, strangely enough, looked Spanish--white skin, black hair. An odd pair they were. He asked me why I wished to know. I told him of my friend, dying; he asked me where my friend was and I said he was yet on the Renown. The man laughed at me, said he was going nowhere near a naval ship. He then said that--if I wished--he would make me a zombi, and then I could do the same to my friend. I was--desperate enough to agree."
It was worse than Bush had feared. He had--hoped, perhaps, beyond any reason to do so for he had not forgotten the broth of brains Hornblower had consumed in front of him--had believed that the nature of Hornblower's lie was to disguise the identity of the one zombi aboard the Hotspur and instead, Hornblower confessed that there was not one zombi, but two. "How, then?" Bush asked softly. "What was done to you? What did you do to Mr. Kennedy?"
"They cut open my hand with a knife," Hornblower said, unwrapping the bandage he always wore on his right hand; if not the bandage, the gloves his wife had knitted for him. Bush realized he hadn't seen Hornblower's right hand since Kingston. Hornblower held it out, now, the cut as raw about the edges as if it had just been struck but the flesh black and dead within. "The servant--he was a zombi, of course, that was how a white man came to serve a black man. His master bade him spit in my wound, and he did. And then the priest asked me for my sword, and I gave it to him, and allowed him to pierce me with it." His hands had strayed to his collar, but he did not open his shirt. He smiled humorlessly and said, "The wound on my hand, I fear, has caused me more trouble than the other. There is much less cause to show my chest. Even Maria did not question that I kept a nightshirt, on our wedding night."
Bush swallowed an unexpected lump in his throat; it returned momentarily. "And--Kennedy?"
"I laid my hand on the open wound on his chest," Hornblower murmured. "It still bled then, in odd trickles. And then--I had my sword in my hand, still red with my blood, but--I could not bring myself to kill him, even in mercy. He died as he would have died without my interference. And woke again, as sorely wounded as before. It has been worse for him than for me, as damaged as his body is. The duty I have asked you to do for me, I shall have to do for him, much earlier--the duty I could not manage in the first place. How I shall face it when the time comes, I do not know."
Bush wondered if Hornblower understood how he himself struggled with that question.
Afterwards, with the knowledge confirmed rather than the insidious suspicion, Bush found that he could only pity Kennedy as well. When he saw the men mutter and cause him trouble, Bush no longer remarked it only to himself as evidence, but felt moved to remind them to show respect for their officers. "Honestly," he said to Matthews, once, after Kennedy had tripped over a loose coil of rope and the men, malicious, laughed. "One can hardly think it his fault that he has become--simple."
"No, sir," said Matthews, scratching his beard, "I suppose he can't blamed for his, ah, affliction."
Bush regarded Matthews in some surprise. "You know of Mr. Kennedy's affliction?" he asked.
"Aye, right enough," Matthews answered. "The captain has me keep watch on him when it's his watch on deck." Of course; like Styles, Matthews had been with Hornblower and Kennedy since the Renown and before. "I'm used to keeping an eye on the raw midshipmen, of course, but he's worse than they. Even young Mr. Wellard, rest his soul, could catch a cue if he hadn't had too much of the, ah--" Matthews mimed tipping a flask back; the laudanum, of course. "I suppose it's as dangerous for the men to roughhouse with Mr. Kennedy as it was for old Captain Sawyer with Mr. Wellard when he was soaked in it."
"Quite," Bush murmured. "Can't you--?"
"I'll see what I can do, sir," Matthews said.
Shortly after, though, the men's feelings for Kennedy became moot. He enjoyed climbing the rigging and riding in the crow's nest, despite all of Hornblower's worries, and refused to come down in a gale. The storm steadily worsened while Hornblower shouted up to Kennedy to come down, sheets of rain plastering his hair and clothes to his skin. Bush had only just offered to climb up after him ("No, it had best be me," Hornblower replied, exasperated and terrified, as usual, at the prospect of scaling such a height) when Kennedy spread his arms as if he could fly and dove to the deck. He broke his back and rattled his skull. Any mortal man would have died of it but Kennedy seemed only confused at his condition. His limbs twitched outside of his conscious control, though he should have been paralyzed. "Horatio," he said, pleadingly. It was all he said.
Hornblower drew his pistol and shot Kennedy where he lay on the deck.
No one questioned the matter. Hornblower's prudent suggestion for limiting the spread of the Enemy had become fleet policy some months before. All corpses were to be shot in the head before the burial at sea.
What befell Kennedy seemed only the first in a series of catastrophes. In the next set of dispatches, news came of zombis in England: sailors getting up from fatal bar brawls in Portsmouth, the ladies whose establishments sailors often visited clawing their way out of early graves; zombi hunts, beggars and whoresons rounded up and burned at the stake. There was news from Maria's mother as well, which Hornblower shared with Bush in a vacant-eyed daze. Maria had died in childbirth and the babe was stillborn as well; Maria had then staggered from her casket. "I was so careful to keep her from my wounds," Hornblower murmured before Bush could read further. He was rocking slowly in his seat, not quite in time with the waves. "I was--if she--what if I am responsible for all of this?" Hornblower asked, jerking his chin at the official dispatches spread over his desk.
"There must have been other sailors who came home from the West Indies tainted unknowing," Bush told him. "Mrs. Mason still takes boarders, does she not? It is possible--nay, likely, even--that there were others who stayed there, cut by the Enemy in battle but not so badly they died of it, so they did not know what they carried."
"Perhaps," Hornblower said in tones of defeat. "Dismissed, Mr. Bush," he added; he still had his mission orders to open.
Bush went to pen a letter of his own to Admiral Pellew, before the mail ship sailed off again. I do not know if this will reach you soon enough for you to give me any timely advice, Bush wrote, but I fear our mutual friend's condition is deteriorating at a much faster pace than any of us had anticipated. I fear the time will be soon, but I no longer know by what criteria to judge the matter. He has grown evermore despondent and withdrawn since Lt. Kennedy's demise and though he shows no similar signs of lessening mental acuity, his very unhappiness worries me. It as if he has lost the will to live, and I think his will had, perhaps, a greater importance in his case, deprived as he is of the breath and pulse that usually keep the machines that are our bodies in good working order. Only today he has received news of his wife's death and subsequent revival. I fear what effect this news will have on his well-being and capability to command.
It was only after the worries of that missive were sealed and sent away that Bush allowed himself to wonder whether Hornblower was right about having spread the ravening to his wife or to others; whether he might have infected others on the ship, or even Bush himself, whether they were all bombs on a long fuse, waiting for a natural death like Maria's to trigger the ravening in them; whether Hornblower had suspected before now, how long that fear had preyed at him. Little wonder Hornblower grew evermore despondent, if he believed that in attempting to continue in his duty he had brought the Enemy to their homeland.
Their mission took them after a missing ship, feared turned ravening. The captain was an old shipmate of Hornblower's from the Indefatigable--therefore from before Hornblower had been a zombi. If the ship had turned ravening it could not possibly be Hornblower's fault and yet Bush could tell from Hornblower's carriage, the set of his shoulders and jaw and the haunted look in his eyes, that he blamed himself.
They found the Grasshopper run aground on the coast of France. Once upon a time, they might have looked at the shallowness of the waters, the danger of the shoals, and wondered what weather had befouled her. Now, a ship run aground was as good as a declaration of ravening. Men in their right minds would not err so, only the Enemy, mindless as it was.
Hornblower ordered the marines and a great deal of the crew ashore to hunt down the ravening beasts. "They will not have wandered far; they move slowly," Hornblower told them. "If a man runs from you, then he is not a zombi. He may be a Frenchmen or it may be that there were some survivors on the Grasshopper. Have a care for who you kill." There were mutterings among the crew: why should they risk their lives to hunt down ravening beasts in France? If all the frogs turned zombi, what skin was it off their noses? White-lipped, Hornblower demanded, "And when all the other nations of the world are taken over and England is the only safe place left--which it is not now--how long do you think it will be before the Enemy swarms up from the seas to take us over? It is our duty to battle zombis wherever they are found. There will be no safe place until the whole world is scorched free of them."
Bush felt sick at heart, knowing that if Hornblower held this conviction true--and he must--then he felt it his duty to die.
Hornblower found Bracegirdle four hours into their hunt; whether he was still or man or become a zombi, Bush did not know immediately. All he saw was Hornblower's attack, bare-handed, as if he had forgotten his weapons. His mouth was open, not to give a battle cry, but to bite down on Bracegirdle's face. Bracegirdle did not cry out either, struggling with him in the fumbling, slow-witted way of the Enemy. The heartsickness Bush felt trebled at the sight. "Sir," he said, not knowing if Hornblower would hear him or understand him. He stopped several paces away, and raised his pistol.
Hornblower snapped Bracegirdle's neck and dropped him; he lay twitching where he fell. Bush knew he would have to deal with the other captain after dealing with his own.
"Mr. Bush," Hornblower said, straightening, shoulders back. There was blood staining his lips and teeth and streaming from the corners of his mouth.
This would be easier, Bush thought, if Hornblower were truly insensible, if he did not recognize his lieutenant, if he did not still speak as if he were a man. Bush himself could not speak. His heart felt not merely sick but broken.
"You're right," said Hornblower. "It's time."
Bush nodded once, biting his lips. He cocked the hammer, steadied his hands, and took aim.
I have sent orders recalling the Hotspur to Tor Bay. If it is not too late, I would like to see Cmdr. Hornblower once more, and, if you are correct as to his state, I would perform the duty of which we have spoken myself, as was my original intention. It never sat well with me to require it of another. Hornblower convinced me it was the only manner in which he could serve, to have someone in your position as insurance against his decline, but it should be my duty. It should have been my duty two years ago in Kingston. If I could live that day again, I would resist my hopes and indecisiveness, spare you your current unenviable position, and Hornblower the cruel inevitability of his fate. It would have been a mercy to him if he suffers as you now describe.
If this letter finds you too late for me to take this burden from your shoulders then let me at least comfort you that the necessary action is a mercy to him now, as well as a duty to protect your men and Mother England. Were he in his right mind he would thank you and I would thank you in his place.
Sir Edward Pellew