The Crisis, Part One
by Nereus

This is an Alternate Universe story which follows on from my previous
pieces 'Divergence' and 'Homeward Voyage'.  I'd often wanted to know
how the relationship between Hornblower and Kennedy would have
developed if the writers hadn't killed Kennedy off and finally I
decided to sit down and write my own ideas out.

It's also a loose reinterpretation of Forester's unfinished
novel 'Hornblower at the Crisis'.  I've tried to keep direct overlap
with Forester to a minimum and to avoid using his phrasing as much as
possible.  Since Forester spent more time on the preliminaries, and
got no further than Hornblower's acceptance of the mission, most of
the plot developments are my own.  Naturally the Hornblower
characters still belong to C S Forester's estate and not to me

I've taken a few historical liberties, but I think Forester would
have had to do that too in order to make the story work.  It's
intended to open a few months after the end of 'Duty'.

Thanks go to Shezzawatto and Farmoreuncertain of the A&E boards for
the helpful comments which they made on the story when I put it up
there.

Enough rambling - on with the tale!

 

*************

 

"Captain Hornblower!"

Horatio Hornblower turned and his face flashed open in surprise and
welcome.  "Archie!"

The two men clasped hands with the warmth of friends who had seen too
little of each other recently.  "I read of your promotion to post-
captain in the Gazette," Kennedy said.  "I must be a long way from
the first to offer my congratulations, but you have them."

"They may be premature," Hornblower said, as stolidly as he was
able.  "The Admiralty have not confirmed my promotion yet."

"They've not given you a ship?  Where have you been then?"

"I was given temporary command of a troop transport, voyaging to the
Mediterranean."  An obvious delaying tactic by the Admiralty,
although he was not going to say so, not even to Kennedy.  "And you,
Archie?"  Kennedy had a cloak on over his uniform, there was a cold
wind blowing through the Portsmouth streets, but there had been a
trace of constraint when he congratulated his friend.

"Still lieutenant."  His tone, like Hornblower's, was carefully
controlled.

"They gave the Greyhound to someone else?"

"They haven't given her to anyone yet.  When full repairs were
started it was discovered much of the bottom was wormeaten.  She'll
be laid up for another three months or so.  Meanwhile, the Admiralty
dithers.  And the longer they delay the more people will remember a
nephew or a cousin or an old friend's son in need of a command. 
Probably the only reason it hasn't happened already is that Greyhound
is no great prize."

With anyone else Hornblower would have said something to check such
talk about the Admiralty, but he could not do that with Archie.  Nor
could he, in honesty, deny the words.

"Then it seems we are both in the same position," he said, and at
once wondered if the words had been wise.  They were not strictly
true, for he was still a rank above Kennedy and that was a subject he
wished to avoid.  The estrangement that had followed his promotion -
or more accurately the revelation that his closest friend did not
wish to serve under his command - had been set aside rather than
resolved.  

"I don't think you need worry."  Was there a slight stress on
the 'you'?  "They won't deny an admiral's recommendation, they're
just dragging their heels.  At worst you'll be fobbed off with some
old tub no-one else would want, and" - he smiled - "I'm sure you
could make a decent fighting vessel out of a hen-coop."

Hornblower wanted to reply in kind, the best he could come up with
was a slightly awkward "I expect they'll confirm you.  They should."

Kennedy looked sceptical, but refrained from making any of the
obvious answers.  Instead he said,  "If you're at a loose end too,
perhaps we could find somewhere to have a drink and discuss the state
of the war."

Hornblower shook his head.  "I'm sorry, Archie, I'm on my way to see
the port admiral.  And I may have to go on to London then.  I haven't
even been to see my wife."

"Oh?"  Kennedy looked curious, but knew better than to ask
questions. "Then I mustn't delay you.  Here."  He pulled out his
pocket book and quickly scribbled a couple of lines. "My direction,
if you do end up back here for any length of time."

"Thank you."  Hornblower pushed the torn paper into a pocket, clasped
Kennedy's hand again, and hurried on.  He wished briefly he had more
time but that could not be helped.  Such hasty meetings and partings
were the penalty of naval life.

~~#~~                       

 

Hornblower had never liked coach travel.   A post-chaise paid for by
the Navy was at least an improvement on the stage; he still had vivid
memories of his journey to join HMS Justinian, crammed between a fat
man with foul breath and a woman with a sharp-edged basket.  Still
the jolting jarred his bones and curdled his stomach, he had never
actually been sick on a coach but it felt like a close thing.  Sleep
was impossible.  A message sent by a handy boy had allowed him a
brief, public meeting with Maria before joining the chaise, and her
strained bravery had done nothing to improve his mood.  Reaching
London he allowed himself time to hire a room where he could wash and
change his clothes, before he set out to present his dispatches to
the Admiralty.  It hardly freshened him, but at least improved his
appearance

He had never visited the London Admiralty before.  The closest he had
come was a decade back, when he had journeyed to London with Captain
Pellew before the Muzillac campaign, but had not actually accompanied
him to receive his orders.  Much had changed since then and not just
himself, although he had difficulty understanding how he could have
been quite so naive as to think victory a foregone conclusion.  The
war had changed also, this fight was no mere continuation of the
last. The declaration of war in 1793 had been from outrage at the
excesses of the revolution, and not a little fear that it would
spread, the fighting had dragged on from mere habit long after the
original cause had passed, and peace had been brought about by a
general feeling that further war was pointless.  The renewal of
fighting a year later had been no unfounded turnaround or whim of the
politicians, rather a realisation that Bonaparte would not, as many
had thought, be content with what he had gained, there was no limit
to the man's ambition.  The end of the peace had been accompanied by
the public proclamation, no less than a speech made by the king in
parliament, that Britain was under threat of invasion.  Hornblower
knew as well as anyone that this had not been scaremongering. 
Bonaparte would come if he could, but to come he had to cross the
channel and the British Navy still blocked his way.  The battle now
was for survival, no less.

Yet even as he entered the handsome stone building, even as he
requested to see the Secretary, with the credentials of the port
admiral's letter to back the request, there was in his mind the
thought that this might provide a chance for him to bring himself to
the Admiralty's attention, get his promotion confirmed at last.  Was
it a good or bad thing that St. Vincent was no longer First Lord of
the Admiralty?  The old admiral was famously a believer in promotion
by merit, but equally famously implacable faced with even the whiff
of insubordination; he would not look kindly on the Renown affair if
it had come to his ears.  Perhaps irrelevant anyway, it was not the
First Lord he would deal with today, but the Secretary to the Lords
of the Admiralty, a man he knew only because his was the name to whom
all dispatches were addressed.  The Honourable William Wellesley-Pole.

Wellesley-Pole was a man in his early forties with a long face and
keen eyes.  His handsome desk was neatly stacked with papers, and his
manners were punctilious.  "Captain Hornblower, good morning."

"Commander Hornblower," Hornblower corrected.  A commander in charge
of a ship was entitled to be styled captain, but at present he had no
ship. 

Wellesley-Pole frowned. "I remember reading Admiral Pellew's
recommendation for your promotion. Not confirmed yet?  There are
never as many ships as officers to man them, it seems."  To
Hornblower's disappointment he made no further comment, merely
motioned him to a chair and read the letter from the port admiral
carefully.

"It says here that the Guepe attacked your ship, not the other way
around?"

"Yes, sir."

"Still, the captain could not have known that you carried troops and
he would therefore be at a great disadvantage in a boarding action. 
And he was killed outright in the fighting?"

"Yes, sir."  Lt Bush had almost beheaded the man, but why was that
relevant? Of course, the Secretary wanted to be sure the captured
dispatches were genuine and not a deliberate deception by the French.

Wellesley-Pole called a clerk over from the far side of the
room.  "Get these open without breaking the seal."  He turned back to
Hornblower with words of polite dismissal patently on his lips, but
before he could say them an inner door opened and another, slightly
younger, man came in.

"A report's just come in," he said, the news so urgent he seemed not
to notice Hornblower's presence.  "Villeneuve's in El Ferrol."

Wellesley-Pole's expression taughtened. "Ferrol?  Well, that's better
than if he had headed for Brest.  But there was a squadron in harbour
at El Ferrol, wasn't there?   He'll have added that to his fleet."

"Undoubtedly."

There was a grim silence, then Wellesley-Pole seemed to remember
Hornblower's presence.  As he turned back to his visitor, Hornblower
took a chance and asked, "Calder missed Villeneuve, then?"

He knew the situation well enough.  Villeneuve, with twenty ships of
the line, had been on the loose since the spring.  When last heard of
he had been in the Indies.  Admiral Calder had been posted off
Finisterre to intercept him should he attempt to make for northern
Europe.  If he should reach the channel the ships would be invaluable
to Bonaparte in any attempt to force a crossing, especially with
Nelson's fleet, which had been in pursuit of Villeneuve, still not
back from the Indies.

Wellesley-Pole's eyes seemed to weigh him for a moment.  Then the
Secretary answered, "Calder met Villeneuve and took a couple of
prizes, but the weather was murky and the bulk of the fleet escaped. 
It will be in the papers soon enough."  He did not have to add that a
public accustomed to naval victories would most likely regard the
escape as shameful. 

"And Ferrol's a tricky place to invest," Hornblower mused.

Wellesley-Pole's expression sharpened.  "Are you familiar with the
place, Commander?"

"I was a prisoner there for some months a few years back," Hornblower
realised that the Secretary was not asking out of curiosity, but from
a desire for information.  Drawing a long breath he launched into an
account of the peculiarities of El Ferrol, memorised so thoroughly
during his captivity.  The Secretary listened attentively, and
appeared to follow. 

"You seem to have used your time as a prisoner well, Commander," he
said at the end.

Hornblower had not yet mastered the art of accepting compliments.  "I
did manage to acquire some Spanish," he said awkwardly.

What Wellesley-Pole would have replied to that he would never know;
for whilst he had been speaking earlier the clerk whom Wellesley-Pole
had dispatched had returned, and handed the opened dispatches to the
younger civil servant, who seemed to have been struck by something in
the contents.

"Look at this," he said, passing the dispatches to his
superior.  "He's changed his signature.  'Napoleon',
not 'Bonaparte'.  The seal is new as well."

"The mark of the new Empire."  Wellesley-Pole commented dryly.  "Are
the contents of interest?"

"Not great interest, unfortunately.  It confirms there will be no
reinforcements to Martinique, no more.  You'll notice he's not
adopted the imperial style yet, still 'I', not 'We'."

While the man was speaking an idea had come into Hornblower's head. 
It was fantastic, it might well be unworkable, yet he summoned his
nerve to voice it.

"Excuse me, sirs, but am I right in thinking that it would be of
great advantage if Villeneuve were to sail from Ferrol to some port
further south that can be invested more easily?  Cadiz, for instance?"

"It would," Wellesley-Pole said, with a touch of impatience, "But,
unless he conveniently goes mad, I see little chance of it."

"If he were to receive an order from Bonaparte, or apparently from
Bonaparte."  Hornblower was speaking quickly in his eagerness, and
also to give himself no chance to feel embarrassed.  "With this as a
model - I presume Bonaparte will send dispatches overland, through
Spain.  If a courier could be intercepted...."

"Land a party secretly - yes, it could work.  We would have to act
fast of course."  Wellesley-Pole seemed to be taking to the
idea.  "Too risky to send men in uniform, the party would have to fit
in, pose as Spaniards, some members at least."  He paused, apparently
for consideration, and the other man put in, 

"That South American firebrand, Miranda, he could be of use."

"Yes, he might serve.  And there are enough French royalists around
who could act as substitute couriers.  But there would need to be a
naval man in charge.  One who knows Spanish, and the area.  Do you
speak French, Commander?"

"Yes sir."  Hornblower realised what he had really been asked, and
found he did not know what to say.

"I will not order a man on such a mission as this," Wellesley-Pole
said quietly.  "You must know the penalty if the party is caught. 
But consider: Bonaparte needs only six hours to command the channel. 
Villeneuve could give it to him, especially if he escapes before
Nelson can join with Calder and Cornwallis.  Delay, even a brief
delay, would be invaluable.  Bonaparte grows tired of waiting for his
navy to clear a passage, just a few more weeks could convince him to
turn his forces elsewhere."

Hornblower felt cold, but there was only one answer he could
give.  "I'll do it."

A pause, then Wellesley-Pole inclined his head slightly in
acknowledgement.  "Thank you, Captain Hornblower."  The rank was not
a mistake, Hornblower had just been guaranteed a ship.  If he
survived.

"It might be wise to include a second naval officer," the younger
civil servant put in.  The Secretary nodded.

"Can you recommend a man, Captain?  One who can be here quickly."

The answer seemed so inevitable it left his mouth before he was fully
aware.  "Lt Kennedy.  He knows Ferrol as well as I or better, and he
has both French and Spanish.  He's at Portsmouth, was recommended for
command of a brig but has not had confirmation yet."

"If he agrees, he can consider himself confirmed," Wellesley-Pole
said crisply.  "Do you know where he can be reached?  It would save
time."  For a moment Hornblower was not sure what he had done with
the scribbled note, but fortunately it was in his pocket-book.

"We will need the outline of a plan by tomorrow," Wellesley-Pole told
him.  "Confer with Mr Barrow."  He indicated the younger man.  "Any
resources we have are at your disposal."  With that the interview was
at an end.  The sequence of events had been so fast Hornblower could
barely understand they had happened at all.  He was confirmed in his
new captain's rank, but he had just committed himself, and his oldest
friend if he agreed, to a murky and extraordinarily dangerous
mission.  All in the space of less than an hour.  He was used to
events moving fast in battle, but such rapidity ashore left him
feeling quite stunned.  Yet he had to master himself, for the day was
far from over.  Drawing in a long breath, he followed Barrow from the
room.

~~#~~

Kennedy looked almost as frazzled as he himself had felt the day
before.  Hornblower was secretly a little pleased by that, not
wanting to think of his own exhaustion as weakness.  He was pleased
also that the Admiralty civil servants had left it to him to do the
explaining.  Well trained by the Navy, he managed to outline the case
in as few words as possible.  Kennedy, no less a professional,
listened intently despite his weariness.  Apart from a soundless
whistle when Hornblower first described the nature of the plan, he
made no comment.

"Will you do it?" Hornblower said at the end.

"Yes."

Hornblower felt a spontaneous smile break out.  "Thank you,
*Commander*"

As he had done Kennedy got the point at once, unlike Hornblower his
first response was indignant.  "Why, you... would you have *told* me
if I'd said no?"

"Of course I would.  But I hoped, very much, you'd say yes."  Quite
why it had mattered he was not really sure, but it had. Kennedy gave
him a fulminating look, then let it go.

"So what else do I need to know?"

"There's a man called de Miranda is going to act as front to the
mission.  I haven't met him yet, but I understand he's from South
America and a campaigner for South American independence from Spain. 
That means he's on our side, or has been since Spain's alliance with
France.  He's had some support from the British government, it seems,
and hopes for more.  And he knows Spain.  The idea is that he should
pose as a Spanish nobleman showing the country to French guests. 
There are going to be two Frenchmen with the mission, the Admiralty
is responsible for finding those.  They are also going to produce the
false dispatches, I didn't ask how."

"Probably better not."  Kennedy grinned.  "Just as long as they're
not expecting you or me to develop forger's skills."

"The first thing we need to do is decide on a landing place.  I've
got some maps and have been listing possibles.  Mr Barrow has
promised all the information that can be got from the Admiralty
files.  It needs to be somewhere in the north, somewhere it's
possible to make a landing undisturbed, but also to get to a good
road reasonably fast."

"We'd need to hire or buy horses, maybe a carriage.  I assume it
would be too tricky to bring them with us."

"Oh.  Yes."  Hornblower cursed himself inwardly.  "Add near to a
settlement large enough to hire transport.  I should have thought of
that."

"You've spent too much time at sea, Horatio.  You forget ship's boats
are no help on land."

Hornblower felt himself smile, and did not notice how the sting of
self-reproach had disappeared.

"Do we know the courier route?"  Kennedy asked.

"No.  The Admiralty may have some information, but if not we'll just
have to deduce the most likely routes and try to find out when we get
there.  Something else to check on the maps."

They were completely absorbed in the maps when Barrow came in about
an hour later.  They had planned like this sometimes on
Indefatigable, where Pellew believed in encouraging his juniors to
learn, and just one time aboard Renown.  Some corner of Hornblower's
mind was vaguely registering that this was quite different from
making plans with William Bush.  There there was always the awareness
of rank on both sides, Bush careful not to speak out of turn, he
conscious of the need to maintain captain's authority.  But Archie
was different, and this situation was far enough out of the ordinary
for rank to seem less important than it ever did on Hotspur.

With Barrow was a man of about fifty-five, who had a high forehead
and iron-grey hair.  Hornblower knew this had to be General de
Miranda before the introductions were performed.  As deep-set, dark
eyes scanned both the younger men he was aware of a certain, slightly
unpleasant, sense of surprise.  He had not expected Miranda to be a
man of personality so forceful it seemed to fill the small room, even
though he had uttered no more than formal pleasantries.

"Have you a plan prepared?"  Barrow asked, apparently taking
Kennedy's consent for granted from his presence. 

"We've chosen a potential landing site, and two back-ups," Hornblower
was glad to report.  "And identified the most likely seeming courier
routes."

"I should look at those," Miranda said, politely enough but in a tone
which plainly expected no argument.  Hornblower silently stood back
to let him see, Miranda appeared to absorb the map and accompanying
notes quickly.  "Yes.  Yes.  I will need to study these more closely,
however."

"You will have to find time for that when you can," Barrow
said.  "There is none to waste.  I need to show the preliminary plans
to Lord Barham and get his approval."  Hornblower, who had already
had a brief meeting with the First Lord of the Admiralty the previous
night (of which he remembered little except for the struggle to
control his fatigue), was not sure whether to be relieved or
disappointed that he was not to be included this time. 

As the door closed behind Barrow, Miranda said, in the same polite
but decided tone, "I understand both you gentlemen speak some
Spanish."

"Yes." Hornblower stopped himself from adding 'sir'. "Also French."

"I need to know how much before we go any further."  There followed a
volley of Spanish which both officers had difficulty keeping up with,
although Kennedy fared a little better than Hornblower.  It was much
the same story when Miranda switched to French, although both were
somewhat stronger there.  Although he knew perfectly well that
Kennedy's superior skill in both languages was solely the product of
his far from enviable time as a prisoner, Hornblower was quite
annoyed with himself for not doing better.

At the end of a thoroughly exhausting half-hour Miranda said
firmly, "We would be ill-advised to attempt to pass either of you off
as Spanish or French.  You, Captain, have a reasonable command of the
languages, which may be improved, but also one of the worst accents I
have encountered."  Hornblower suppressed a retort, he knew very well
he had no ear for accents, but that did not make the condemnation
easier to hear.  "You," Miranda was addressing Kennedy now, "have a
better ear, but not good enough to deflect the suspicion that your
appearance would arouse."  Kennedy looked unsure how to take this,
but he had to know it was true.  Years of service in warm waters had
left his hair bleached almost to silver, and his light blue eyes
stood out vividly against a deep tan, it would be hard to imagine
anyone less likely to blend in in Spain.  "It will be best," Miranda
went on, "if we pass both off you off as belonging to some other
continental nation.  I propose Holland.  There are Dutch in many
places and the accent is very like the English one."

"Do I need to point out that neither of us speaks Dutch?" Kennedy
asked wryly.

"As long as we encounter no genuine Dutchmen that will not be a
problem.  It is not a widely spoken tongue.  I will be taking a valet
and secretary as part of the necessary entourage, I suggest you two
gentlemen travel as my grooms.  That way you are unlikely to attract
much attention.  Do you know anything about caring for horses?"

"Yes," both replied, almost together.  "That sounds to be an
acceptable plan," Hornblower added, rather more abruptly than he had
intended.  The Secretary had made it clear that *he* was in command
of this mission, but Miranda seemed to be taking charge regardless
and he was more than a little annoyed by this rapid stream of
decisions.

Miranda also seemed to be impervious to hints.  "Then, if that is
settled, shall we examine the maps again?"  It was phrased as a
question but not intended as one.  Hornblower felt his hackles rising
further. 

"General de Miranda, this is a British Naval mission."

"Of course," Miranda replied absently, with no indication he had
taken the point, although Kennedy's swift glance at Hornblower showed
that he had.  Knowing of no way to press the issue without a
bluntness that was likely to alienate Miranda, Hornblower could only
let it go, for the time being.

~~#~~

      My dear Maria,
                        I am writing to tell you that the
Admiralty have some new employment for me.  I regret that I am not at
liberty to give details but it will be some time before I can visit
you or even write to you again.  Naturally I am very sorry for this,
and also that our last meeting in Portsmouth had to be so brief. 
Please do not worry if much       time should pass before you next have
word from me.  I trust that you are well and that our son continues
to flourish.  Please convey my regards to your mother.
                        yr affct husband,
                                         
      Horatio Hornblower

 

They had managed to arrive at a plan that satisfied all, not fully
refined yet, but good enough that the final details could be worked
out whilst aboard ship.  Barrow had assured the other men that he had
secured the services of two French loyalists and of a fast schooner
to be waiting at Dover tomorrow.  It was as much as could be
reasonably done that day.

Hornblower had written to Maria.  Writing to his wife never came
easily, and here he was further handicapped by an inability to tell
her what he was really doing.  Reading the single page over he knew
it was a cold and formal letter, but he knew too it was not in his
power to alter it, even though it might be the last time she would
ever hear from him.

If he died, then no doubt she would never know the truth.  The
government would never admit to an unsuccessful spying mission. 
Wellesley-Pole or another would come up with some convenient lie.  At
least they would no doubt do so once they were sure he was dead, who
could say how long that would take?  Still, Maria would not know him
for a spy, and he was glad of that if nothing else.  His affairs were
in order, not that there was very much to order.  She would get a
pension - he must remember to ask for a guarantee it would be the
full pension for a post-captain.  She might even remarry.  The
thought was unexpectedly painful, as was the thought of the small
Horatio growing up without ever knowing him.  Bleakly he reflected
that it might not make much difference to the boy, for he severely
doubted his own ability to prove a good father.  He wanted to be one,
but he had little idea of how to set about it.

He was about to become a spy.  To go into enemy territory with the
intention to deceive.  To betray the principles of truth he had
always tried to honour.  To become a thing which all fighting men
despised.  His own idea.  And not content with committing himself he
had drawn in his oldest friend, exposed him to the chance of a
shameful death.  He told himself not to be patronising, Archie
Kennedy was an adult and by no means a fool.  He had been at liberty
to say no.  Yet still the whole thing was his scheme, his
responsibility.  With some difficulty Hornblower shook free of the
bleak thoughts, telling himself this was no mood to take to the last
leisurely dinner he might ever eat.

      ~~#~~

"I propose," Kennedy said, "we talk about anything except what we're
about to embark on."  It had been his insistence that they should
have a proper dinner together, when Hornblower would have been
content to simply snatch some food and get some sleep.  Kennedy had
argued that rest was not essential, this was not like going into
battle.  They would do better to get some relaxation.

Surprisingly Hornblower found he was indeed able to relax and put the
doubts out of his mind.  He'd missed this, it seemed he had not
realised until now how much he had missed it.  William Bush was a
good man, a good friend and a very good first lieutenant, but Archie
Kennedy was still the only person with whom he felt completely at
ease. 

They talked at first about the Navy, not about the progress of the
war but exchanges of news about mutual acquaintances and pieces of
gossip about their superiors.  Kennedy supplied most of the latter,
along with an irreverent commentary that had Hornblower one-third
shocked and two-thirds highly amused.  As the wine sank lower they
moved, as they usually had in the past, onto literature.  Kennedy had
long since won the battle to convince Hornblower it was not a
dereliction of duty to broaden his reading beyond sailing manuals and
mathematical texts, but their preferences were dissimilar enough to
make for some stimulating exchanges.  Hornblower preferred classical
styles and his favourite poets came from his grandfather's
generation.  Kennedy had more eclectic tastes, but a particular
liking for some of the writers of the Elizabethan and Jacobean era. 
He had recently discovered George Chapman's translation of the Iliad,
and was full of praise for it.  Hornblower agreed to give Chapman a
try, whilst maintaining no translation was likely to be superior to
Pope's splendid version.  He recommended Swift, a discovery of his
own, and Kennedy countered with Defoe, saying he thought Horatio
would enjoy 'Robinson Crusoe', if he could make allowances for the
author's lapses in seafaring knowledge.  Sometime towards the end of
the evening they got onto the old wrangle about whether Shakespeare
or Ben Jonson was the better playwright.  Hornblower insisted that,
whilst Shakespeare could turn a memorable phrase, his lack of regard
for the classical unities made his work hopelessly disorderly. 
Kennedy argued that Jonson had a great talent for satire, but could
not touch Shakespeare in characterisation or approach his gift for
the sublime.  They'd been through this argument so often it was like
a well worn garment, could be happily kept up even when they were
both half asleep and lasted right through until they said good-night
before parting for their last night ashore.  That night Hornblower
slept soundly.  The first night aboard ship was to be another matter.

      ~~#~~

*The crowd was eager, jostling.  The small group of boys had managed
to worm their way to the very front, ignoring cuffs and curses. 
Catterail, to Horatio's right, nudged him sharply in the
ribs.   "Here they come!  Ready for the show?" Horatio nodded, in
fact he was starting to wish he had not come, but ten-year-old pride
could never let him admit this.

He had always thought that condemned men had the hood put over their
faces only on the scaffold.  Yet this man was wearing one already,
his head completely covered, but walking as though he could see. 
Another surprise, the hangman was wearing uniform, but not any
uniform he was familiar with.   Certainly not English.

"They say their eyes pop out when it happens," Catterail whispered. 
Horatio swallowed. 

The rope was being adjusted round the condemned man's neck, the
watching crowd jeered and hooted.  He could not remember hearing a
sound so ugly.  He started to turn, but it was no longer Catterail
beside him.  A slight, brown-haired man stood with his eyes wearing a
fixed stare and blood staining the front of his coat.   With mounting
sickness he recognised Bunting beyond Clayton and... he jerked round
to face front, but not without the knowledge that an audience of the
dead stood around him, silent now, expectant.  Unwillingly, he looked
back at the scaffold and the man who stood there quietly and the
knowledge came to him in that moment before the hangman jerked the
hood away, so he could see the face.  His face.  And as the trapdoor
dropped the Hornblower on the scaffold screamed....*

~~#~~

Archie Kennedy could not quite get used to being on a ship with no
watch to stand, or convince himself that its sailing was none of his
affair.  He had more than half expected Hornblower to be pacing the
decks, tense with frustration at not being able to participate, but
in fact he was leaning over the rail, gazing out across the leaden
sea.  Kennedy had already noted the shadows under his friend's eyes
and a certain tensity about him, beyond what could be expected before
a dangerous trip ashore.  He strongly suspected that Horatio had had
a nightmare last night.  They shared a cabin, and something had
certainly woken him, but by the time he had collected his wits all
was quiet, so he had said nothing.  He briefly considered whether to
approach him about it now and decided to wait for a better opening. 
Hornblower was probably feeling seasick, which would not make him
inclined for discussion.

He spied Miranda strolling the deck, and made his way over to speak
to the man.  French royalists were two a penny, but the South
American intrigued him.  Hornblower had already made a determined
attempt to get on good terms with Miranda and succeeded quite well,
discovering a common interest in, of all things, mathematics. 
Kennedy, who found calculations a necessity rather than a pleasure,
had been itching for a chance to talk to Miranda without Euclid
intruding.  "I hope you are not finding the sea voyage inconvenient,
general."

"No, indeed."  Although possessed of a certain aristocratic hauteur,
Miranda seemed ready enough to talk.   "I have endured far longer
voyages than this."

"The conditions are somewhat cramped," Kennedy commented.  "Monsieur
Levallier was complaining of it earlier."  Miranda smiled.

"I believe M. Levallier would think it beneath his dignity not to
complain about something."  This agreed with Kennedy's own assessment
so completely he could not help a brief spurt of laughter. 

"I believe you have hit the nail squarely on the head, General."  He
judged they had exchanged enough pleasantries for him to raise the
question he really wanted answered.  "General, whilst we were
preparing for this journey I gathered that you had some knowledge of
the French armies."

"It is no secret," Miranda replied.  "I served in the French army for
some time, not long after the revolution."

"*After* the revolution?"

"Yes.  I believed a country extolling the virtues of liberty should
be an inspiration to us all.  I also hoped it might sooner or later
be an ally in my own fight for freedom.  But the craze for blood and
persecution of the innocents that overcame the revolution led to my
imprisonment and almost to my execution."  He thinned his lips
briefly.  "Naturally I was disappointed in the revolution, but I
believe the experience to have been most valuable all the same."

"It should certainly be useful to us," Kennedy said, a trifle
stunned.  "Is that where your rank comes from?"

"I have served in more armies than one."  There was a strong touch of
grandiloquence about the declaration, yet it did not sound absurd.

"How did you become a supporter of revolution, General?"

Miranda was more than willing to tell him, but it was none too easy
to follow a story which assumed much greater knowledge of South
American affairs than he possessed.  Arbitrary rule, high taxes,
severe trade laws, the arrogance of the Spanish towards colonials and
various injustices done to a younger Miranda jostled one another
bewilderingly.  However, he could not but be impressed by the man's
obvious devotion to his cause, and a little dazed by his plans for
South America's future, which seemed to consist of a constitutional
empire, modelled after the British system and presided over by a
hereditary emperor drawn from a people called - if he had heard
aright - the Incas.  No-one could accuse Miranda of lacking vision.

Or of much discretion for that matter.  He himself would have been
happy enough to leave things there, but it turned out he had not been
Miranda's only confident as Levallier, the older of the two Frenchmen
included in the mission, stormed up to the pair of them, with a taut-
looking Hornblower in tow.

"See if he denies it!"  Levallier declaimed dramatically.  Although
not much past forty he was a visible relic of the *ancien regime*,
lean and elegant, his hair powdered in the old-fashioned style, his
manners fastidious to the point of affectation.  Kennedy had already
taken a dislike to the man, although he found him more amusing than
annoying.

Hornblower was attempting to look impassive, but Kennedy knew him
well enough to tell he was both irritated and embarrassed. "General,
did you indeed tell M. d'Atigny-"

"The *Vicomte* d'Atigny," Levallier interrupted.

"-that you have served with the revolutionary French army?"

"It is the truth," Miranda replied, in the tone of one unable to see
what all the fuss was about.  Although it might have been
entertaining to watch Levallier explode, Kennedy thought it as well
to intervene.

"The General has severed his ties with the French, who saw fit to
accuse him of treason."

"That I can believe," Levallier said haughtily.  "But unless General
de Miranda's treatment has caused him to perceive the great error of
his judgement, he cannot expect us to consider him an associate of
trust. 

Miranda stared back with an equal haughtiness.  "So long as the
French Emperor supports the present Spanish government you may be
sure I will oppose him."

"No doubt if that *canaille* were to alter his support, then you
would also alter your own!"  Levallier hissed.  "You are a supporter
of the base!"

"That will do, Monsieur," Hornblower cut in forcefully.  "General de
Miranda was selected for this mission by the highest authorities in
England.  They are fully informed of his views, and would not have
chosen him for this mission were there the slightest doubt of his
fidelity."

"Do you expect me to associate with this, this *revolutionary*?" 
Levallier spat out the last word as though it were coated with poison.

"You may chose between working with him or returning to England.  M.
Levallier, we are all working for the same end, surely we can set
aside differences of opinion to achieve it."

Levallier stood stiffly for a moment.  Then he said, "For France, and
for my king, I do this," and stalked away.  Miranda looked after him
with a slight, scornful smile. 

"My apologies, gentlemen, for that disturbance."  He too walked away,
his carriage implying dismissal of the matter.

"Phew!"  Kennedy let out a breath.  "I haven't met anything like that
since Master Bowles and Captain Rourke got to arguing religion on the
Indy."

"No religion and no politics is a good rule in the services,"
Hornblower said with a slight, but absent, smile.  "Not that this is
the services, precisely."

"My compliments, Horatio. You carried that off splendidly."

Hornblower frowned.  "Archie, did you know that Miranda had been a
supporter of the revolution?"

"Not until a few minutes past.  He had just finished telling me when
you came up."

"I wouldn't say so in front of Levallier," Hornblower said. "But it
did give me a bit of a jolt hearing that.  A man who would oppose his
country and his king...."

"I don't think he sees either of them as his.  And I don't know much
about South American affairs, but according to Miranda, Spain hasn't
been ruling its colonies well."

"All the same, there should be a principle of loyalty involved.  A
man who does not have that principle, who would overturn the
established order, such men are dangerous."

"Shouldn't loyalty work both ways?"  Kennedy asked, curious to see
what response he would get.  "Should men be expected to submit to
tyranny, unprotesting?"

"Surely you are not a supporter of revolution, Archie?"  Hornblower
exclaimed.  "Not after the things you told me you saw in France!"

"Of course I don't approve of that kind of atrocity," Kennedy
replied, a bit too sharply.   In fact those memories were still a
little disturbing. "And neither does Miranda.  I'm not saying
revolution is a good thing, but men can be driven to it.  Would you
unquestioningly support an order that was headed by men like
Moncoutant?"

"He was just one man, Archie."

"Was he, Horatio?  But anyway, isn't all this beside the point? 
Miranda is on our side at the moment, and that's what matters for the
mission."

"But if Bonaparte was to support revolution in South America, what
then?"

"I daresay Miranda would support him, but he doesn't.  I really can't
see what there is to worry about."

Hornblower sighed.  "I don't really think Miranda will betray the
mission.  I just feel his way of thinking is dangerous."

"To Spain, perhaps.  The only way it's likely to be dangerous to us
is if things get out of hand between him and Levallier.  Now there's
a man who makes me understand why the French had a revolution.  That
long nose of his is enough to start a riot single-handed.  He's
probably complaining to d'Atigny right now about not having a trained
chef to prepare our meals."  He spoke lightly, and was pleased to see
Horatio smile.

~~#~~

"I do apologise for the trouble," d'Atigny said, with a slight
smile.  "I did not expect M. Levallier to react quite so fiercely."

It was late in the evening, after a final intensive period of
planning which had been complicated by Levallier's unyielding
attitude towards Miranda, whom he addressed only when absolutely
necessary and in tones of acid formality.  The three youngest members
of the party were alone, in the cramped below-decks room where they
ate and planned, the others already retired to their tiny cabins. 
The next night they would be landed ashore. 

"You do not yourself object to the General's past history, Monsieur -
do you mind being addressed as 'Monsieur'?"  Hornblower asked.

"Why should I mind?  Oh, you mean I have a title.  Rather absurd for
an exile, besides it is acceptable to address French nobles
as 'Monsieur'.  A more dignified title than your own 'Mister'." 
D'Atigny spoke lightly, he was a young man, mid-twenties perhaps,
with a round face that was pleasant without being handsome, and a
perfect command of English.  The two naval officers had already
learned that his father was a Marquis and the whole family had
escaped from France as the revolution was turning ugly, since when
they had maintained close links with both the titular king Louis
XVIII and elements of the British government in continuing efforts to
bring about a royalist restoration.  "As for General de Miranda, I
confess I was taken aback, but on reflection his loyalty to the
present mission is all that matters.  After all in war it is not
unusual for enemies of one week to be allies the next - or the other
way around."

"True, although that usually applies to countries rather than
individuals," Hornblower said, not quite managing a casual tone.

"Have you been to Spain before, Monsieur?"  Kennedy asked; there had
not been very much time to learn the credentials of their associates.

"Not since childhood, but my mother is Spanish by birth, and I know a
good deal about Spain.  Which is no doubt why I was chosen, when a
man was needed for this mission at short notice."  He smiled, rather
engagingly.  "I must admit to being pleased. I've not been involved
in anything half as important, or exciting, before."

"I think that's true of all of us," Hornblower said.  "The important
part, anyway."

"I'm sure the naval life does not lack for excitement," said
d'Atigny, still smiling.  "I hold a captain's rank - army rank that
is - myself, but I don't pretend that is worth much, with the French
royalist forces being what they are.  I've not seen action."

"Do you want to?"  Hornblower asked. 

"I want to serve my country," d'Atigny said, his voice seeming the
more sincere for its lightness.  "Speaking of which, perhaps I can
serve it best at this moment by trying to talk some sense into M.
Levallier, if he's still awake."

"Do you think you can do it?"  Kennedy said wryly.

"Quite possibly not, although he does respect me because I have a
title.  Well, 'if t'were done, t'were well done quickly.'"

Kennedy gave a swift smile of recognition at the quote.  "Very true. 
Do you like drama?"

"Yes, and I like most of your playwrights, although what I would
really like is to see the plays of my own country.  Yours seems to
know nothing of Molière or Racine or even of Voltaire.   My father
speaks often of the performances at Paris and Versailles in the old
days....  But now is not the time to talk of that.  Goodnight,
gentlemen."

"Goodnight," Kennedy returned.  "And I would like to hear your
father's stories, some other time."  D'Atigny looked a little
embarrassed, but smiled.

After the door closed behind the young Frenchman, the two sat in
silence for a little before Hornblower said, "We should get some
sleep." 

"Will you sleep?"  Kennedy asked him.  "You're not happy about this
mission, are you?"

Hornblower drummed his fingers, absently.  "I don't like playing the
spy, it's true.  It doesn't feel honourable.  But in the present
circumstances I do believe it has to be justified.  For England."

"Britain, Horatio, Britain."  He acknowledged Hornblower's apologetic
gesture with a fleeting smile before asking on impulse.  "What do you
think of when you speak of England?"

Hornblower frowned at him.  "What do you mean?"

"Never mind.  I do understand what you mean about spying.  But
there's something else, isn't there?" 

There was a pause, then Hornblower said quietly, "Do they hang spies
in Spain?"

"I think it's the garrotte.  That's what I was threatened with, after
my fourth escape."

"You didn't tell me that."

"Didn't I?  It was a long time ago."  The silence stretched out for a
time before Kennedy said, "Horatio.  Is there a reason why you dread
hanging so much?"

Another long pause.  "Is it so obvious?"

"I do know you rather well.  On Renown, when we were facing a mutiny
charge, I've never seen you dread anything else like that.  Fear of
death doesn't take you that way, so I guessed it was fear of
hanging.  Was I right?"

Hornblower stared at the far wall.  "It's foolish really," he said,
in an absolutely level voice.  "I saw a hanging, when I was ten.  A
group of us, young boys I mean, went together.  I suppose we thought
it was bold or grown-up, something like that.  It was a woman, she
struggled so much the hood came off....  Like I said, foolish really."

"I don't think it's foolish.  It's an ugly end.  I never saw a
hanging, but I do remember when we were on Mediterranean duty in the
Indefatigable, and there was a ship with a man swinging from the yard-
arm-" He stopped suddenly.  "I thought you were sea-sick, but I
suppose that wasn't it."

"Only in part.  I remember."

"You've nothing to be ashamed of, Horatio.  After all, you're here."

"We really should get some sleep, Archie.  There'll be no chance
tomorrow night."

"In a little, Horatio.  I want a breath of air."

      ~~#~~

He did take a turn on deck, but the fresh breeze did nothing to
dispel his mood.  Typical of Horatio to trot out that line about
patriotism.  Kennedy, a Scot by birth and ancestry, had often been
irritated by appeals to fight for England.  Perhaps that was why he
could not take claims of country on simple terms.  Or perhaps it was
just that life had made him sceptical. He knew it wasn't thoughts of
a country that kept him on deck with cannonballs hailing or storm
raging.  He didn't believe that was true of Horatio either, though
Horatio might think it was.  Sailors didn't fight for a country, they
fought from pride and fear, perhaps for glory and booty, at best for
their shipmates.  They might be patriotic in their way, but
patriotism didn't mean much when the world was bounded by a heaving
deck, eyes nearly blind with smoke or spray.  Anything else was
romantic fable.  Of course Horatio *was* romantic, although he would
deny it, quite sincerely, to his dying day.

Still, this mission was different. He'd never really been in an
action likely to make much difference on the wider stage.  Moreover
in the last war Britain had hardly been fighting for life.  Oh, there
had been some attempted landings in Ireland, even one in Wales, said
to have been defeated by some locals armed with pitchforks. 
Basically though, the French navy of that time would have been hard
put to it to invade a desert island. This was different. This was
*Bonaparte.*

He was afraid.  Afraid of dying, afraid of what the Spanish might do
before they killed him, but most of all afraid of doing something to
ruin the whole mission, get them all killed, wreck what might be the
only chance of averting an invasion.

The responsibility was terrifying.  The same fear he'd felt at
Muzillac, his first sole command, the first time other lives had hung
by his decisions.  That was long years past, he was *not* in danger
of panicking this time, he told himself.  But he was afraid.

Stop it.  Horatio had been right.  The more he brooded the worse he
was going to feel.  It would be better to get some sleep.

Shaking his head briskly in an attempt to dispel the thoughts, he
returned to the cramped, shared cabin. Hornblower had not yet taken
his own advice, but was seated on the edge of his bunk, still fully
dressed and frowning.  He had taken out the thin, leather case that
held the reason for their presence and was examining the contents,
yet again.

"No-one been tampering, I hope?" Kennedy said it lightly but the
reply was given in all seriousness. 

"No, of course not.  I just wanted to be sure."  Hornblower turned
the document over, examining the seal in a somewhat restless way. 
Kennedy perched down on the bunk beside him, and idly picked up
another sheet, given by Barrow 'just in case'.  A blank document,
over an authentic looking seal and signature.

"I don't suppose we'll really need these.  They're a chancy thing to
be carrying about."

"No more so than the rest."  Hornblower took the document from him
and smoothed it, in the same almost irritated way.

"Are you going to keep these once we go ashore?"  Kennedy asked.

"That's what I've been wondering.  Miranda wants to carry them. He
says there's a secret compartment in his trunk.  I don't know how
much of this kind of secret work the man must do."

"Then let him take the papers by all means, might be safer not to
carry them into servants' quarters in any case."

"They are my responsibility."

"They are the responsibility of all of us," Kennedy said mildly.

Hornblower returned the dispatches to the case, and closed it with a
snap.  "I suppose we have to trust him."

"If we can't," said Kennedy, "we're all dead anyway."

~~#~~

It could not be called a beautiful night, the sky was overcast, dim
and dreary despite the faint filter of light from a moon which would
be almost full.  A brisk breeze might have freshened things, but the
air felt oddly heavy and the wash of the waves on the shore held a
sullen sound.  The landing place was not good to look on either, a
bay with a rather ugly slope of grass and scrub behind it, and a
ridge of lumpen rocks to one side.  Perhaps some of this was merely a
reflection of the general mood, but more than one of those on the
pebbled beach would have had their thoughts lifted by a sight of the
stars.  It was fortunate that enough light came from the moon, even
through the thin clouds, to grant a just sufficient view to the boat
crew waiting uneasily at the water's edge and the party conducting a
low-voiced argument in the shadows of the bay. 

"General de Miranda, I appreciate your desire to be of service, but I
must remind you once again, this is a British Naval mission."

"Pray do not be foolish."  Miranda replied in a dismissive tone.  "I
am speaking here of practicalities.  It is certainly better for a
small party, consisting of those with the most experience of Spain
and full command of the Spanish language to make the first
exploration."

"Captain Hornblower!"  Levallier hissed, "I must protest in the
strongest possible terms against any proposal to allow this
*revolutionary* out of the sight of loyal and decent men!"

"Are you insinuating that I intend to betray this mission?"  Miranda
asked haughtily.  "If so, you should perhaps ask yourself what you,
or anyone else, can do to prevent me."

"There is no question of your fidelity, General," Hornblower
insisted, with what he hoped was a quelling look at Levallier.

"Miranda does have a point," Kennedy said, too low for anyone other
than Hornblower to hear.

Hornblower paused for a second.  "Take no undue risks, General, and
return as soon as possible.  We need to get away from this beach
quickly."  As Miranda and his secretary, Escudero, disappeared up the
uneven slope behind the beach he swung away from the rest of the
little group.  Although he was indeed annoyed by Miranda's high-
handedness, his chief reason for objecting to the plan had been a
marked distaste for being stranded on the beach with nothing to do
and no way of knowing what was going on further inland.  He hated the
frustration of helplessness more than almost anything else.

Behind him Levallier seethed.  "We will be fortunate indeed if that
*homme d'revolution* does not bring troops upon us."

"Oh, take a damper, Levallier," Kennedy said.  "He was right, you
know.  If he does want to betray us there is nothing we can do about
it."

"I noticed," said Levallier stiffly, "that you spent much time in
that man's company today.  Is it an impertinence to ask of what you
spoke?"

"Russia, mostly," said Kennedy.  "He seems to have spent a lot of
time there, it was fascinating. Although I'm not sure I believe that
he had an affair with the Empress Catherine."

"I am sure that no *true* monarch would consort with such a man!" was
Levallier's predictable response. 

Kennedy eyed him thoughtfully.  "What is your own background,
Monsieur?"

"In France I held a position in the army of our martyred King Louis."

"Fair enough, but what about your family?  What was your father's
position?"

Levallier stiffened.  "He lived entirely in the country.  I am sure
his history would be meaningless to you."

*Touche!*  Kennedy thought.  That had been a lunge in the dark, but
it had plainly gone home.  Levallier was no aristocrat, his father
had had at best a small country property.

"Oh, I think it might mean a great deal," he drawled, with the scorn
that could only be felt by an aristocrat genuinely careless of birth
towards a parvenu who worshipped it.  Then as Levallier went even
more rigid, "But really, my dear fellow, there's no need to take it
that way.  In the Navy we believe in allowing men of all backgrounds
to prove their abilities."

The response took him slightly aback, a furious stream of French, too
fast to follow, then a switch to English,  "I should have realised
more than to expect true standards for a nation of boors, such as are
the English, but I would have believed, at the less, that a man in
the military of his country would not take the part of such a
traitor, a *coquin* a-"

"Monsieur Levallier!"  Hornblower interrupted, striding over. "Do you
want to bring the Dons down on us?  Lower your voice!" 

Levallier turned red, then white.  "I- I have no wish to bring down
endanger, but I have been most mortally insulted!"

"A simple question about your family an insult?"  Kennedy asked with
deliberate amusement.  "Or was it that I suggested you are a man of
ability?"

Levallier drew himself up.  "I will not prolong this.  I know already
what party the captain will take."  He strode angrily away, taking up
a stance at the edge of the water, near the ugly rocks and some way
from the waiting boat.

Hornblower said in his coldest official tone, "I don't know what you
did to enrage him, but you should *not* have done it."

Kennedy flushed angrily, but after a second his inherent sense of
justice won out.  "You're right, I shouldn't.  But he... no, you're
right."  He drew a deep breath and swallowed his pride.  "Do you want
me to apologise?"

"I think you'd better," Hornblower said, still coldly.  "Although I
see little hope of his being mollified."  He softened then, and
added, "However, he can't really dislike us much more than he already
did."

"I wouldn't be too sure of that.  I am sorry, you've got quite enough
on your plate already."

Kennedy did force himself to go over and apologise, but it was plain
that did little to soothe Levallier, who remained standing pointedly
and silently apart from the rest of the group.  A rather
uncomfortable silence then prevailed until Miranda and Escudero
suddenly slipped out of the darkness and rejoined the little party.

It seemed things had gone well.  The locals had accepted the story of
an unfortunate carriage accident, and a vehicle had been hired.  The
next day should, according to the plans, see them at a larger
settlement where it should be possible to purchase transport.  A few
minutes later the boat that had brought the party ashore was slipping
away, the schooner would be well clear of the coast by dawn.  The men
who began picking their careful way up the thinly grassed slope that
led from the beach were on their own now. 

 

[To be continued...]