Forgetfulness, Chapter 3
Two Years Later
Captain Hornblower was having serious misgivings about this whole wedding idea, not that he had really liked it in the first place. Maria, glowingly happy, came through the door of the church, next to her old harpy of a mother. Horatio felt his chest constrict with apprehension, an utter sense of wrongness. This should not be happening to me, he thought, I don't even like women.
Lieutenant Bush felt the same foreboding, but his attention was distracted by the bonnet Maria was wearing. It niggled at his brain, giving him the feeling of almost grasping something just out of his reach. It was like leaning over the ship's side—a little further and he would have it, but he was terribly afraid that the extra inch would send him plummeting into the ocean. Bush glanced at Horatio, who was frowning worriedly, then back to the bonnet. Horatio, bonnet, Horatio, bonnet….
"Bloody Hell!" Bush exclaimed, far too loudly. Maria stopped walking down the aisle, and Horatio turned to stare at him halfway through standing up, as did everyone else in the church. He was too amazed by the revelation he had just made, however, to be able to stop the flow of words leaving his mouth.
"I thought you looked familiar when I first met you on the Renown, Horatio. It's been bothering me all these years, the question of why I knew your face, And I just remembered! At the Green Serpent Inn, in Portsmouth, that night in '01!"
Horatio looked at him with an almost comical expression of shock and horror. He knew exactly what Bush was talking about, although he had had no idea that his Lieutenant was there.
"You were falling over drunk," Bush continued inexorably, "and you got on a table and started singing, wearing a ladies' bonnet."
Everyone in the church gave a collective gasp of astonishment, some craning their necks to stare at Horatio. Bush kept going.
"Then you started taking your clothes off, and Mr. Kennedy and some lobster got up on the table with you, and you were dancing with them. Then you and Mr. Kennedy started kissing, and your hands were—"
"Thank you, Mr. Bush, that is quite enough!" Horatio finally found his voice. After giving Bush a fearsome death-glare, he slowly raised his head to look at Maria. Her eyes were wide and moist, her upper lip trembling.
"Oh Horry! This can't be true!" She exclaimed, rushing toward him. Horatio was mortified that his youthful folly should have been thus exposed, afraid that he had let her down and deceived her into thinking that he would make a good husband. And yet he could not lie to her.
"Maria," he said gently, "I cannot deny it. Every word of what Mr. Bush said is true. But that was long ago—"
"Yes, two whole years," Bush put in. Horatio ignored him.
"—and it is all in the past now. I assure you that such a thing will never happen again."
"You…you were drunk?" Maria asked tearfully, reassured by Horatio's honesty and kind tone.
"Yes, you see, Archie's promotion had just been confirmed, and we were being transferred together to the Renown, captained by the famous Captain James Sawyer. Turned out he was a raving lunatic, but of course we didn't know that then…" he trailed off awkwardly.
"And…and the bonnet?" Maria was sure that there was a rational explanation for everything.
"I was drunk, Maria,. And it was very pretty." His eyes flickered appraisingly to her bonnet, and she stepped back a little.
"The dancing? The- the kissing?" She blushed to talk of such a thing.
"The other two gentlemen were very good friends of mine, and we were drunk, and, well, you see- I'm a sodomite." Horatio was determined that Maria should know all his flaws before they were married. Maria let out a little shriek of horror, and turned toward her mother, who had come up behind her.
"I'll not have my daughter marry someone like you!" Mrs. Mason exclaimed, clinging to Maria protectively. "I should have known better- a sailor! Mr. Mason was the same! Oh—" She burst into noisy tears, pulling her daughter toward the door.
"Horatio," Maria called back, "How could you? I thought I knew you, and now—" She was weeping as well, as the two women left the church. The other guests followed swiftly after them, bustling like a frightened herd of sheep, and looking over their shoulders at Horatio as if he was about to bite their heads off. When he and Bush were left alone, Horatio sank down on the pew with his head in his hands.
"Sir?" Bush enquired gently, "Sir, are you all right?"
Horatio nodded slightly.
"My apologies, sir. Perhaps I spoke at an inopportune moment. I am very sorry, sir, that you won't be getting married."
Horatio looked up, startled.
"What? I won't be getting married?"
The full import of situation dawned on him, and he looked a good deal happier than might be expected for a man in his situation. Before Bush could comment on this, a woman burst into the church and ran down the aisle towards them.
"Horatio!" She called, in an almost-familiar, rather deep voice. Horatio turned. Oh God, he thought, will women never leave me alone?
"Er… can I help you, ma'am? Do I know you?"
The lady rolled her eyes audibly, though her face was covered by a thick veil.
"It's me, you fool," she said, giving Horatio a rush of recognition and hope. He reached for the veil, and slowly lifted it to reveal- Archie Kennedy!
For a moment Horatio could do nothing but gape in amazement. The his gaze swept over Archie's body. He was wearing a cornflower blue and white striped dress, and a navy blue spencer that was reminiscent of his Lieutenants' uniform. It was elegantly fitted over his muscular shoulders and padded false bosom, and he looked quite stunning. A straw bonnet covered his head, decorated with white and blue ribbons and the veil that had concealed his face. His figure and features were unmistakable even in this costume, his blue eyes sparkling with amusement at Horatio's confusion, and his pink lips grinning.
"Archie!" Horatio exclaimed, for lack of anything better to say. Then Archie reached for him, and Horatio eagerly rediscovered the elysium of Archie's mouth. They wrapped their arms around each other, and Horatio could feel Archie's sturdy body beneath the crinkling muslin. They probably would not have stopped kissing for another few hours, but that Archie drew back swiftly, and gave Horatio a hard, open-handed slap across the face.
Horatio stared at him, lips bruised red and his cheek flushing angrily.
"You traitor!" Archie cried, his eyes blazing. "You were about to get married! To a woman!"
"I- I'm so sorry, Archie. You see, well, I thought you were dead."
"That's no excuse!"
A thought occurred to Horatio.
"So- you're not dead, then?"
Archie looked as if he wanted to slap him again.
"Of course I'm not, you daft idiot! I was only pretending."
"Don't you have anything to say for yourself?"
"I… I was distracted with grief, Archie. I scarcely knew what I as doing. I've only ever loved you."
Archie succumbed to Horatio's sincere tone and puppy dog eyes within moments, and they melted into each others' arms again, with murmurs of "I'm so glad you're not really dead, darling," and "I missed you terribly, sweetheart," interspersed between kisses.
Bush was slightly disgusted by this melodramatic and sentimental display, and he was about to leave, when another person entered the church. He or she was wearing a dress, but Bush wasn't about to trust his initial assumption after what had just happened. The dress was a striking shade of turkey red, accompanied by a deep red velvet spencer and a flamboyant bonnet, also decked with a veil as well as outrageous bows and flowers.
"Monsieur Boosh," an unmistakable voice said.
"Major Côtard?" Bush exclaimed incredulously.
With some trepidation, Bush lifted the veil to reveal the handsome Frenchman's face, smiling at him above a lacy collar.
"Boosh… William. Je t'aime." He said simply.
Bush guessed that Côtard was saying something important, although he had no idea what it could be.
"My apologies, sir, but—" he was unsure of how to explain that he didn't know any French.
"You ignorant Englishman!" Côtard cried impatiently, "I said I love you!" He threw up his hands in a gesture of hopelessness, but Bush caught them and held them tenderly.
"I shall endeavour to learn your language," he promised, unable to tear his eyes from Côtard's amorous gaze, "remind me how to say I love you?"
"Je t'aime," Côtard breathed, leaning closer.
"Je t'aime," Bush repeated, before closing the distance between their lips. In a moment Côtard had him backed up against a pew, ravishing his mouth and grasping fistfuls of his dark curls.
It was at this point that the vicar returned from where he had been hiding in the vestry. After standing frozen for a moment in shock and confusion, he cleared his throat loudly and the two couples broke apart.
"This is entirely inappropriate behaviour for unmarried couples!" he thundered, unaware that a much more serious sin was actually being committed. However, his words gave Horatio an idea. He went down on one knee in front of Archie, taking one of his hands in his own.
"Archie Kennedy," he said, "Will you marry me?"
"Of course I will, Horatio," Archie replied, drawing Horatio to his feet and embracing him.
When Côtard knelt down in front of Bush, the vicar was a little surprised. Wasn't the man supposed to be the one proposing? Well, the woman was French if her accent was anything to go by, and Lord knew what strange customs they had over there.
He married them without undue ceremony, with each couple standing in as witnesses for the other. He raised his eyebrows a little at the veiled women's names, but a purse of coins abruptly silenced his questioning.
Matthews and the other sailors were still waiting outside to form a bower of swords for the newlyweds to walk under. However, the carriage had disappeared, along with the wedding breakfast at the inn, so they all went to a pub instead. Admiral Pellew found them there, and toasted to the happy couples. Later on, Lord Edrington showed up, resplendent in a devastatingly elegant moss green silk gown trimmed with black lace, and black ostrich plumes in his fair hair. A splendid time was guaranteed for all.