The novel Lieutenant Hornblower was one of four owned by my father and was my first introduction to this whole genre of fiction in my early teens. The novel introduces William Bush who is to become one of Hornblower's closest friends.
Sailing for the West Indies under the paranoid Captain Sawyer the Renown is not a happy ship. He is convinced that his officers are plotting against them and persecutes them until they meet in secret to discuss what action they can take. Sawyer hears of it and rouses the marines to arrest the "mutineers". They are warned and disperse while Sawyer somehow manages to fall headfirst down a hatchway. Saywer is initially in a coma but is clearly delerious when he recovers and is kept restrained. People have their suspicions about Hornblower but nothing is ever stated and subsequent events mean that the enquiry into the event is cursory at best.
We see Hornblower develop a new skill as a manipulator of his superiors. Faced with an indecisive first lieutenant he manouvres him first into reading Saywers secret orders and then into carrying them out rather than reporting to Kingston for further instructions. They land on Hispaniola to wipe put a nest of privateers and, thanks largely to Hornblower's manipulation of the first lieutenant this succeeds with many of the privateers taken as prizes and the garrison on board Renown as prisoners. During the voyage the guards are overcome, the first lieutenant caught in his bed and tied up while Bush is left badly wounded. Hornblower rallies the prize crews and retakes the ship but Saywer, restrained and drugged, is found to have been killed. Blame naturally is put on the prisoners but it is remarkably convenient for the officers as the captain was starting to regain his senses and could have testified against them.
Bush and Hornblower do well out of the prize money but later manage to blow it all in a debauch in Kingston. The enquiry into the rising of the prisoners does not condem anybody, Bush praised for his heroics is still seriously wounded, Hornblower is rewarded with a promotion to the acting rank of commander while Buckland, the first lieutenant, although not censured, is damned by being caught in his bed and is passed over.
The action moves to Portsmouth after the Peace of Amiens where Bush encounters Hornblower coatless on a freezing winter's day. Bringing his command back to England just after the peace was signed his promotion was not confirmed and, worse, the difference between a lieutenant's pay and the pay he had already drawn as a commander was stopped from his pay leaving him without an income. He got by as a professional gambler receiving a small retainer from the proprietor of the Long Rooms to make a fourth when required at whist. Luckily it was normally the bad players who required his services as a partner while Hornblower was a superb player. Bush watches Hornblower play against some senior offices and they leave to encounter a press gang. Later in the morning a letter arrives appointing Hornblower to his own command.