"Sir," Matthews whispered. "Mr Hunter.sir."
His whisper sounded unnaturally loud in the fog. Hunter scowled, approaching Matthews who was bent over the wheel, his face creased in concern.
"Yes Matthews, I hear 'em." Spanish, the bloody Spanish. If his ears did not deceive him, more than one ship.
Again Matthews gained his attention. "Should we send for Mr Hornblower, sir?"
He waved his hand to quiet Matthews and walked to the rail. "Not. just. yet." Cocking his ear he listened more closely. Damn that Hornblower to hell, they were in the middle of the Spanish fleet. He had no choice but to call him. Moving quietly along the deck he caught Styles' arm and ordered him below to fetch Hornblower.
Tensely he waited for Hornblower to appear on deck.
"Good morning, Mr Hunter," Hornblower said at full voice, shattering the quiet.
Up against the rail Hunter motioned to him, all his nerves humming. "Shh. quiet. listen." The dagos could hear the Le Reve, of that he was sure.
Matthews behind him supplied Hornblower with more information, whispering "Dagos, sir."
"Shh." Hunter said again, to quiet Matthews this time, narrowing his eyes at Hornblower. Changing course was a mistake and remind him he would. "We are in the middle of the Spanish fleet, by God. You should never have altered course."
A call, and the San Nicholas was alongside them, eighty-four guns. Did Hornblower now understand the trouble they were in?
Hunter watched as Hornblower walked around the deck, coming to decision. "Mr Hunter, Le Reve's colours. Run them up. The Spanish may not wish to fire on their allies."
What else could he say but "Yes, sir". The young pup was using the same ruse he had to capture Le Reve. Hunter preferred an open fight; skulking and hiding were a coward's way of waging war. Hiding under another nation's colours was the act of a cheat and only a man without honour would consider it. How could Hornblower call himself a King's officer?
His growing anger turned to surprise as Hornblower ordered the sails reefed to slow Le Reve down. The man was not only a coward, he was mad. Didn't he realise that would bring them closer to the middle of the fleet? He bit his tongue; Hornblower ignored suggestions from those beneath him, and doing so had gotten them into this damned situation.
There was one thing that he could not ignore. The fog, lifting. Above him, his eyes caught an unwelcome sight.
Gaining Hornblower's attention he pointed out the danger, "Sir, the sun."
Finally.. finally he was looking apprehensive. Did the boy realise the danger they were all in? Perhaps now he would begin to fight. At least then they would fall as heroes to England's cause.
Another whispered call, this time from Styles. The danger was increasing. They were forced to change course and the Oriente was now passing alongside. Another two decker, and he watched as Hornblower snatched off his hat. and then snapped at him to do the same. Now that the Spanish could see them it was only a matter of time until they were caught.
"How many guns, Mr Hunter?" asked Hornblower, shaking Hunter out of his reverie. He was now nervous, pent up and ready for action.
"The Oriente.. Seventy-four guns, sir."
"So if it came to exchanging broadsides. I expect we would lose." Turning to Styles he continued, obviously amused. "But it would be a close run thing, eh, Styles."
"Yeah, it'd take 'em almost a minute to sink us."
What was the man getting at? Was that an attempt at a joke? If so, then it was a poor one.
He barely held in his retort as Hornblower gave his next order. Clenching his jaw, he went below deck to retrieve the French uniforms. More hiding, more deception and more playing games; indeed Hornblower was playing at command. A real leader would never have got them into this damned situation. What did Captain Pellew see in the boy?
Gathering up the uniforms he went back onto the deck. He noted that the duchess had appeared, and was conversing with Hornblower. Shoving the uniform coat and hat into Oldroyd's hands he sent it up to Hornblower, before handing out disguises to the rest of the crew.
As he returned to the wheel, another ship had been spotted. By God, they were surrounded! He gathered Oldroyd and Styles at Hornblower's order and the gun at the side was loaded. Finally an order that made sense!
This ship's captain hailed Le Reve; Hunter watched as Hornblower went to the side and exchanged words in French. the Spanish were offering their assistance. The Spanish were obviously suspicious now, and what's more they were up to something. They had put a boat in the water. Hornblower had to do something. NOW!!
Grabbing the spyglass he trained it on the other ship. They were signalling. But what were they signalling? Passing the spyglass to Hornblower he got the answer. They were opening their ports...
The ship's boat was now in range. Another exchange, this time in English. Their ruse had been discovered. Of course it had.
He took in a deep breath, and looked in Hornblower's direction. They were about to be blown out of the water. Would he now fight? But still he was hesitating. They were in range! He leaned in between Oldroyd and Styles at the gun. The time had come to fight. The Spanish knew it, and he knew it. Why didn't Hornblower?
Another exchange. And then. they were being fired on. The mast was broken, the yards falling. The duchess was ducking in fear.
Hornblower was speaking.but not the order he wanted to hear. "Oldroyd, haul down her colours. And get everyone out of these damned costumes. Let's be taken for Englishmen, eh?"
They had surrendered. Without a single shot being fired.
Damn the man to hell!