An American Encounter
Ch 18 There and Back Again
I hesitate to write this, and if Horatio knew....well,....I do not want to think what he might say. I sit here shaking my head as I recall the past two weeks. Where shall I begin? How much can I convey?
Horatio has been wretched without you. An opportunity came for Captain Pellew to loan us out to another ship and he took it. It seems Indefatigable held too many memories. He is eating and sleeping now, but the things he thinks these days are astounding! And, they all seem to revolve around thoughts of you! You need not worry about his faithfulness, Pamela, not to you anyway. The navy, it seems, has another think coming, as I have recently become aware.
Foudroyant, the ship we are on, has become separated from the Indy as Lord Keith sent her off on another mission. Anyway, we are very safe and are with Admiral Nelson. Very much with him, in fact, in a palazzo in Palermo. We have not seen any action. The war seems strangely quiet here in the Med, even though we are literally right next to Britain's premier naval hero.
But, now, for the worst. Horatio nearly deserted last night, planning to return to you. Only the oddest circumstances and some minor concern for my well-being stopped him. How are you taking this news? He has decided if he is going to sit about, he would rather sit about with you. I cannot think he has thought this through, which further exacerbates the situation. "Love" has confounded that analytical mind of his. He told me you were expecting and has decided you and the child, are more important than his duty and, dare I say it, his honour, as well. Not that you two are not important, but this is his career, indeed, his good name, even! If he were caught, they would execute him, Pamela. Can you understand my concern?
Horatio loves you to the very heights of heaven, and he loves the child, as well. I do not mean to put pressure on you, but only to explain the situation.
The suggestion of you helping England with the war put him in a dithering foul humor. Just take care of yourself and the little one. That will be enough of a duty for England. I ask, that you would encourage Horatio to remain the capable officer he is. I do not know how much good that will do from what I have seen lately, and you must do as your conscience dictates. I pray I have not been out of line in writing of these dire emotional straits he is navigating.
Should Natalie still remain in Gibraltar, extend to her my well wishes, as I extend mine to you.
I have the birthday gift with me. Fear not, it will be delivered as requested.
Archie re-read the letter for the fifth time. Folding it, he sealed the plea with the seal of the palazzo and penned the address. With a sigh, he stared at Horatio soundly sleeping in the bed he once occupied.
Walking to the open door, he held the posts and stared into the moonlit gardens.
*Horatio. Deserting? It cannot be. It cannot.* Archie's mind refused to believe. Though he knew it, lived through it, he could not fathom it. His mind was in complete amazement and at a loss of what to do. He could not let Horatio throw his life away! When would the man come to his senses? He turned his head over his shoulder to assure himself he still slept. *You must be praying for him, Dr. Sebastian,* he thought. *Nothing else could have prevented the wild course he's charted! He must have told you. You knew, didn't you? Why did you not tell me?* He wished Sebastian were here. *What am I to do now? He has not given this up. I know him. This insane notion prevails.* Archie closed his eyes, exhaling wearily. *What am I to do?*
Returning to lie upon the couch prepared for Horatio, Archie lay, ankles crossed, hands behind his head, and thought, until sleep claimed him.
Barwell stood in the midst of the room, looking from bed to couch. Hornblower was the senior, he should be the one.
Hornblower lay face down on the bed, mouth open, deep in sleep.
"Mr. Hornblower." Barwell shook his shoulder. "Mr. Hornblower, sir?"
Hornblower patted the hand and held it and spoke sleepily, "Pamela."
Barwell furrowed his brow. "Mr. Hornblower."
Horatio's eyes flew open and he released the hand. "Barwell!" He turned over on his side attempting to understand how he came to be in a bed. He rose up on his elbows and searched the room.
"Yes, sir," he chortled. "No Pamela here. But you are to dress quickly. We are leaving. Beeman packed things for you and Mr. Kennedy. We leave within the hour."
"Leaving? The palazzo?"
"Palermo, sir. We are sailing."
The conversation woke Kennedy. "What's that you say, Barwell?"
"We are sailing, Mr. Kennedy. Get up, sir. Breakfast is in fifteen minutes. I've brought you hot water and there is your kit and clean shirts. Do not keep the Admiral waiting."
"Where are we sailing?" inquired Hornblower.
"The Admiral has not confided that information, sir. Be ready, I warn you, unless you want to be left behind."
Barwell left, and the two stared at each other.
"You are not staying here, Horatio."
"I do not want to stay here." He opened his watch. Six thirty. He bounded from the bed and pulled his shirt off. Kennedy did the same. The two of them prepared to shave, both standing naked from the waist up.
"How are you feeling, Archie?"
"Better, thank you," he grinned as he lathered his face. "And better by the moment. We're sailing!"
"Indeed. At last, some action. Do you think the French and Spanish fleets have arrived?"
"I hope so."
Hornblower grinned at him. "Itching for a fight, are you?"
"Something like that. You? Does this give you a reason to do your duty?"
Horatio's mind flashed back to his cabin on Dolphin and recalled his bed partner tickling him until he translated the signal flags so irreverently placed by his crew on their wedding night. He smiled to himself and said softly, "If only I could."
"I said, if I could....if given a chance, of course, Archie." He felt guilty having thoughts Archie could not partake in, but these were private, like so many he cherished of Pamela. If only Barwell had not awakened him. Such a lovely dream! It was the cargo ship. He was on the bow, sailing west in the noonday sun. She suddenly appeared in the water off the starboard bow, waving. He removed his coat and jumped in to meet her. By the time he swam the distance, he was as naked as she. To be held in her arms again was ecstasy. To taste her mouth and feel her body pressed against his. To feel her hands on his head, caressing and pulling through his hair, removing his queue. An island was in the distance. If they could swim there, they could spend the day lost in love. She held onto his shoulders lightly as they swam, her breasts touching his muscled back on the upstroke, and then Barwell had wakened him. He opened his eyes to see Archie staring at him, buttoning his waistcoat and shaking his head.
"I do not suppose you will let me in on that dream you're having?"
Horatio grinned. "Your buttons are off."
"We are leaving, Horatio." Fingers worked rapidly to undo and do them. "Should you not finish shaving and get dressed?" He pulled on his topcoat.
"Go on without me, Archie. I will be there momentarily."
"Oh, no. I'm not leaving you. I am going to stick to you like glue until we are both on board that ship." He crossed his arms and leaned against the wall.
Horatio drug his razor rapidly.
"Careful!" Archie clicked his tongue at the tinge of red. "You know, if you ever try to desert ..."
"Shhh! Archie!" He glared and wiped his face with the towel.
"Yes and well you should shush me. If you ever try to do that again, I am going to beat the tar out of you! Out rank me, officer or not! Do you hear?"
Horatio's features fixed while he tugged on his shirt and waistcoat.
"Well, what, Mr. Kennedy?" He did his buttons quickly.
"Have you nothing to say?" The formality pricked.
Hornblower inhaled and exhaled quickly pulling on the uniform blues and touching the letters in the inside pocket. He shifted his shoulders within the coat to adjust it. "No. Nothing."
"Horatio...please...come to your senses man!"
"I do not want to talk about it. Unless you intend to turn me in, I have nothing to say." Hornblower made to leave the room.
"I love you like a brother, Horatio," Archie blurted, trying to reach his intransigent mind.
He stopped dead in his tracks, exhaled, and hung his head. "Archie..." he turned to stare into the bright blue eyes, filled with worry. Guilt descended, and he remembered why he was here. Archie had a fit. His eyes averted. *Did I cause it?* he wondered. He looked back into the waiting expression.
"Talk to me, Horatio. Tell me what you are thinking?"
He walked the few paces to lay his hand on Archie's shoulder. "Forgive me, my friend. You only have what you think are my best interests to heart."
Archie's lips twitched with a faint smile. "More than think, Horatio."
Hornblower smiled wryly. "So you intend to resort to fisticuffs, do you?"
Hornblower rubbed his cheek thoughtfully, recalling the slap of the day before. Meeting Kennedy's eyes, a light smile revealed. Archie loved him like a brother? He felt the same of this man. He moved to his side and put his arm over Archie's shoulder. The two headed out the door.
"Fair warned is fore armed. I shall keep it in mind."
"You do that, Mr. Hornblower."
Arriving in the breakfast room, the long table was spotted with the numerous occupants of the palazzo. The two were directed to the side board buffet where an assortment of customary morning offerings resided.
Nelson and Lady Hamilton sat next to each other. She attended his needs by buttering his toast and slathering on a layer of lemon curd. They conversed with one another amicably.
Hamilton stood drinking a cup of coffee and speaking to one of the servants in Italian. He looked up and caught Hornblower's eye briefly.
Hornblower and Kennedy found seats and nodded good morning to Nelson and her Ladyship.
The Admiral appeared tired and worn, though animated in Lady Hamilton's presence. How long was his late night vigil on the grounds? The decision to sail must be the fruit of time spent.
"Mr. Kennedy! Are you restored sir?" questioned Lady Hamilton.
"I am well this morning, your Ladyship, thank you."
She winked at Hornblower. "The couch must have been agreeable, Mr. Hornblower. You seem rested."
He glanced at Kennedy, then back at her, feeling mild colour in his cheeks. "Indeed, ma'am." He could not help but steal a nervous look Lord Hamilton's way once more. He remained under his own recognizance. Hamilton trusted his word of honour. But was his secret safe? Two men knew of his failed plans. His fork played with the food on his plate.
Kennedy watched Hornblower's utensil and then raised an eyebrow to his friend.
Horatio speared a bit of potato to pop in his mouth at Kennedy's quiet demand.
"Barwell has informed you we are leaving?" asked Nelson.
"Yes, sir, he has," replied Hornblower. A servant placed a cup of coffee beside his plate.
"What will we do without you, Admiral?" moaned Lady Hamilton. "Our Marquis Nile must away to battle the damned French!"
Nelson grinned. "Duty calls, my dear."
"I know, I know, my Prince Pyramid, but we shall be the worse for your absence."
Kennedy lifted the coffee cup to his lips quickly to hide the smirk, but nearly choked at his near failed attempt to stifle the unexpected laughter. Hornblower beat him on the back.
"Careful, Mr. Kennedy!"
"I beg your pardon, sir," he coughed. "Ahem. Ahem."
Barwell arrived at the Admiral's side and spoke quietly in his ear. Nelson replied in kind.
"Gentlemen. Our carriage will be ready momentarily. Lady Hamilton, I thank you for your generous hospitality once again." He stood, taking her hand. "Will you walk with me?"
"I would be delighted, Lord Nelson."
"Gentlemen," nodded Nelson.
The two exited and Hornblower saw Lord Hamilton note the departure.
Kennedy held a piece of toast in front of his mouth and whispered to Hornblower mirthfully. "I thought I was going to choke! Can you believe it?"
"Shhh, Archie, there are other ears here."
Hornblower drank his coffee and mused on the two lovers and Lord Hamilton. He recalled Hamilton's words of the night before and marveled at the man's acquiescence over his wife's attentions to Lord Nelson. Hamilton was old enough to be her father. Still, she was his wife. He could not fathom the acceptance of such a situation. It was too much for his youthful naiveté to comprehend.
"I'm going to gather my things, Archie."
"I'm with you, Horatio." He gulped down the last of his cup.
There was not much to retrieve. The two found the way to the stairs Lady Hamilton descended yesterday. The coach was just arriving. Barwell stepped beside them carrying a valise.
"I must notify the admiral," said the servant.
"I will go," offered Hornblower.
He entered into the palazzo and searched the formal rooms off the main hall. Hamilton was standing at the end of a side passage, then turned and disappeared silently, giving him no notice. Hornblower went that direction. Arriving where Hamilton once stood, he stared at the sight before him. Tucked away in a semi-dark alcove, the admiral had his one arm tightly around Lady Hamilton in a desperate kiss. Hornblower caught his breath and backed silently from the spot. Turning to the direction of Hamilton's retreat, he caught the back of the man entering into a room and closing the door softly. Stunned, he stood silently considering the implications.
Kennedy stood rocking on his heels, pulling at his stock. "Did you find him?" he asked the returned leftenant.
Hornblower shook his head no. "He knows we are leaving." He descended the stairs to the waiting carriage and tossed his kit on the carriage seat.
Kennedy gazed back into the shaded halls of the palazzo, then joined his comrades at the carriage.
Just as Barwell was asking Hornblower if the admiral was informed, Nelson appeared on the raised portico with Lady Hamilton and Lord Hamilton joining them. The admiral descended the stairs and motioned for his men to enter the carriage. He stopped at the door to bow a farewell to his hosts, then climbed in to sit beside Barwell. The footman closed the door giving the driver the signal. The carriage clattered off towards the harbour.
A boat crew waited for them at the docks. The four of them entered into the launch. As the boat was rowed out to Foudroyant, Hornblower could see the cargo ship had not yet sailed and felt his body tingling with mad thoughts wishing to join her, but how?
Kennedy noticed Horatio's mild tremor and searching and saw what caused the anxiety. He was right. Horatio still entertained the insanity. Breathing deeply, he steeled himself to keep a vigil, lest the navy be deprived of a capable officer and the officer lose completely what once gave him motivation and was temporarily lost from his logic.
Foudroyant completed upping anchor. She departed the harbour in the van of the fleet. Sixteen ship of the line following. Captain Hardy, and the master, Mr. Jansen, were beside Nelson relaying his wishes, answering his questions, and affirming his comments.
Kennedy and Hornblower gazed at the mass of wooden sail accompanying from the quarter-deck. The experience was novel enough bring wider eyes and a tremble of excitement. Nelson observed the reactions of the frigate leftenants.
"Impressive, are we not?" he inquired smiling.
"Indeed, we are, sir!" answered Kennedy.
"First time in this large a squadron?"
"Yes, sir," commented Hornblower, straining to see the cargo ship still at anchor.
The ships' heading was west. Nelson intended to take those under his command to the west of Sicily and patrol the waters giving advantage to the island, Malta, and Egypt, possible destinations for the French and Spanish Fleets. On the morning of the fourth day, Schooner Calliope arrived from Palermo with a letter from Ambassador Hamilton.
20 June 1799 Palermo, Sicily
My Lord Nelson,
Their Sicilian Majesties have been in contact with me. They are most concerned that you return to Naples. Cardianl Ruffo has regained the city, though there is a stalemate between his forces and the French and Jacobins. It appears Ruffo and Captain Foote have made an agreeement which will allow the French and their Jacobin allies to flee to France. Queen Maria Carolina is particularly dismayed. She informs there are seventeen hundred troops ready to sail.
I relay their desires and tend to concur. If the enemy is no where in sight in your region perhaps your services would be better tendered in Naples.
Ambassador Lord Hamilton
Nelson sat pondering the missive. The table before him strewn with documents, and he drummed the table with his fingers. "What the devil has Foote done?" He stood, immediately beginning to pace, rounding the standing coffin. Hardy looked up from the chart he studied. "He cannot absolve these scoundrels! That jack-a-napes Ruffo is behind this! There is not a man of honour to be found in the whole Kingdom of the Two Sicilies!" he thundered, shaking his fist at Hardy. "Damn! Barwell! Call Burdock! Get me the scribblers!"
Within moments, the leftenants and midshipmen began to arrive. Secretary Burdock placed paper, quills, and ink bottles around the table. First Leftenant Thompson, and Leftenants Campbell, Spicer, Vassal, and Ayde arrived to take familiar places. They knew the drill. They knew who should answer the call and who should not. They would all be taking dictation to save copying time. Something was in the wind when such circumstances occurred. Burdock placed cards before each writer signifying which captains and ships to address the memorandum. Each man would complete two missives to cover the immediate squadron. Burdock would write the archival copy while his assistant hovered over the group, doing whatever was needed.
Hornblower arrived slightly confused, this being his first call into such an enclave. Leftenant Thompson motioned for him to sit beside him. He spoke lowly to him explaining the activity, telling him he was taking the place of Leftenant Ferris recently fallen from the writing ranks.
Three midshipmen arrived and sat down and readied themselves, quill to hand.
"We are ready, Admiral," toned Burdock.
Nelson dictated letters to be delivered to his far flung captains delineating the return to Palermo and then Naples, and the political situation awaiting them.
"Second copies, all," he said with a disagreeable flourish. It was the command to begin the copy for the second captain of each writer.
Nelson and Hardy discussed the situation. Hardy playing devils advocate for Ruffo.
"My Lord, you cannot doubt that Ruffo has done their majesties a good service in retaking Naples. At least, the man has the gumption to lead the rabble peasantry in some cohesive form."
"Hmph," replied Nelson, frowning with thoughts of the distrusted Neapolitan. "Each and everyone of them disappoints, Hardy. This agreement with the French and Jacobins will never do! Come about, if you please, signal our group to ready, and expect orders."
"As you wish, my Lord."
"Burdock!" Nelson called him over to his personal writing desk, motioning for him to sit. The admiral began another letter to Hamilton, apprising him of his intentions.
Hornblower, though nearly finished with his second letter, could not write for listening to the letter to Hamilton. His pen poised over the paper, he was enraptured listening to Nelson.
21 June 1799, Foudroyant, Mediterranean
My Lord Hamilton;
I am in receipt of your communiqué. This news irks me to the core! What can Ruffo be contemplating? Is the man mad? What kind of signal can it be to excuse traitorous deeds? We should return to Palermo, wind willing, by late tonight or early on the morrow. Be ready, for we will make haste before this deed goes too far and the ruffians be released Scott free!
There is no sign of French or Spanish ships in these waters. We have patrolled for three days and boarded a number of foreign ships. They report no vessels flying the colours of our enemies.
...Nelson..., he wrote left-handed with Burdock's quill.
Hardy set off the signaling cannon to draw attention to the flags flying. The heel of the ship could be felt as the helmsman spun her around handily.
Everyone in the aft cabin jumped at the noise. The coffin had fallen to the deck.
The servant was again on the spot at his beck and call.
The admiral was abashed looking firmly at the man's pleading expression. "Oh, very well, damn it! Put it in the hold!"
The admiral looked down at his prize and railed at it. "Yes! Fall you damn Frenchman! Think you to take Naples? You have another think coming!"
Hornblower swallowed with wide eyes. This must be fighting Nelson, another side to the multifaceted man. He got a sinking feeling if he were to desert, Nelson would not be someone he would want to face.
On the return sail, adjustments were made to accomodate the coming passengers. The troops would be ensconced on the first two decks of each of five ships, including Foudroyant. The Hamiltons would need compartments and places for their servants. Kennedy was moving back in with Hornblower to give his cabin to Hamilton's man servant.
The two leftenants jostled each other as they tried to adjust the cots.
"Wait a minute, Archie." Hornblower adjusted the length on his cot supports.
"So Nelson is really put out with this man Ruffo?"
"You would have thought he were the devil himself," strained Horatio, fighting the cot strap. "Let's try it." Hornblower turned to Archie with his hands on his hips.
"No, no. You get in first."
Hornblower climbed into his cot and stared at Archie expectantly.
Archie bent to look at the space between the bottom of Horatio's cot and the top of his. He was squinting and shaking his head.
"Higher. You've got to go higher."
Hornblower leaned out over the edge of his cot looking below at Archie's. "Are you sure?"
"Yes! I will not be able to get out with you that close!"
Hornblower sighed heavily as he climbed back out. He frowned at Archie's cot, his cot, his straps, and the bolt holding them.
"This is a lot of trouble!" he said matter-of-factly. "I wish we were back on the Indy."
"At least we know where she is now. Goliath coming with the message from Keith though seems to have been another wild goose chase."
"Well, Archie," said Horatio, reaching to adjust the cords for the third time with a grunt, "...there is no way to know WHERE they are unless we go look. I cannot censure Keith for wanting us to check for the enemy fleets....nor does Nelson, I believe. We are better safe than sorry."
"Indeed. Things get stranger and stranger the longer we are in this war, Horatio. Do you think having Lady Hamilton and the Ambassador on board will cause difficulties?"
"What kind of difficulties?"
"I don't know....male female difficulties?"
Horatio studied his friend. "No more than usual. They've done this before. Remember? The admiral told of the flight from Naples last December."
"Yes, but Horatio, they were overloaded with all sorts of people. Women, children, civilians. It must have been a nightmare."
"Yes, especially with the weather so uncooperative. I am glad we were not here then, for all its excitement. What about it?" he asked from inside his cot. "Have we got it this time?"
Archie bent over and slipped into his cot. He lay looking at the underside of Hornblower's.
"Well, it is certainly cozy."
Horatio tried to see his friend from his perch overside his cot, but he was not visible. He lay back and reached to touch his immediate ceiling, recalling the ceiling over his bunk on the Indy. No monkeys here. He studied the planking looking for other animalia.
"I hate to say this but I've bottomed out."
"Oh, Archie!" he said with a sigh.
Archie grinned and kicked him midway the cot.
"Hey! Stop abusing your superior officer!" he chuckled.
"I think I am going to like this arrangement. Now, if only it were your head instead of your buttocks I was hitting, I might knock some sense into you."
Hornblower climbed out nimbly and stared at his friend, hands firmly on hips.
Archie grinned happily at him.
"Maybe I should be on the bottom." He took the outstretched hand to help his friend out and up. "God! I've got to do this again? Maybe I will just sleep on the deck." He sighed and began to undo the cot straps for the fourth time. "And you had better not be kicking me."
Archie turned his leg sideways and did just that.
The first watch saw them slipping into Palermo...again. Horatio found himself checking the dock holding the cargo ship. She was gone. Silly idea to hope; there was nothing for it.
Archie was relieved to see the "olives" gone to sea. He felt himself relax as much as Horatio seemed disappointed.
The shore teemed with Italian soldiers. What a job before them! It would take hours to row them and their weapons and their supplies out to the ships! No one would be resting anytime soon.
Nelson stood hatless on the quarter-deck running his hand through his white shock of hair, shaking his head and sighing. He decided to stay on board and let the Hamiltons come to him. He would only be in the way and detain the exodus further to go ashore.
Passed midnight, the five ships set sail for the Lipari Islands. The topmen grumbled as they made their way around the men and their equipment on deck, Styles, Oldroyd, and Matthews among them. Lord Hamilton stayed near Nelson on the quarter-deck acting as interpreter until the ship was well clear of the harbour. Kennedy wondered what the other four ships were doing for translators. Lady Hamilton looped her arm around Kennedy's.
She leaned and whispered. "You look well, Mr. Kennedy."
He was startled at first, but smiled at her familiarity. "I am, ma'am." He continued to grin but looked back into the waist watching the soldiers adjust to the ship.
"What amuses you?" she asked.
"I guess you remind me of someone else."
"Your sweetheart in England?"
"No. No. Actually, you remind me of Mr. Hornblower's wife."
"Do I? How charming! I do know of the lady from Mr. Hornblower." She smiled and held his arm more firmly with her own. "How does she come to be in Gibraltar? Did he meet her there?"
"No, ma'am. Pamela is an American." The moment the words were out of his mouth, he knew he over stepped his bounds.
"An American! Saints be praised! Mr. Hornblower is married to an American?"
Archie wondered if he could shush her but decided he could not. Horatio was staring and seemed to be of a darker skin tone, though it was hard to tell in the dim light of night.
Nelson and Hamilton looked her way and glanced at Hornblower. He stared back.
*It is not a crime to be married to an American!* he thought. *Damn! Why can't Archie keep his mouth shut!*
She released Kennedy and sauntered over to Hornblower, lacing her arm in his.
"Don't mind them, Mr. Hornblower," she whispered and tilted her head towards Nelson and her husband. "America is one of the few nations we are not at war with! You can have your American bride, " she cooed.
Hornblower swallowed ducking his chin, wishing he were not the object of her attention.
"I think I shall have to rescue your leftenant, admiral." said Hamilton.
"Mr. Hornblower, I want to hear every detail. How did you come to meet an American?"
"Emma," said Hamilton, taking her elbow, "...it is late. I think we should look to going below."
She grinned sheepishly from Hamilton to Hornblower. "Very well, Sir William, but..." she turned to Hornblower, "...before this voyage ends I wish you tell me your love story, Mr. Hornblower."
Hamilton pulled her away with a final nod to the leftenant.
Horatio was thankful he escaped saying anything. He moved to Kennedy's side.
Archie spoke quietly out the side of his mouth. "Sorry...ooph!" Hornblower clandestinely gave him another of those side kicks to the seat of the pants. "...Horatio. I deserve that."
"Indeed, you do." Hornblower said lowly and eased from his side.
The wind was negligible and the knots barely three. Morning, all hoped, would see an increase in wind. By midday they joined the twelve ship of the line at the rendezvous point. Foudroyant's officers stood the deck noting the squadron in waiting.
Lion signaled she needed to speak to the admiral and so the joining ships hove to with the others.
Captain Arthur was piped aboard and met by Captain Hardy and Admiral Nelson.
"Admiral, we have news, sir. A sloop from Captain Troubridge has brought word the French and Spanish fleets may be headed to Naples."
Nelson's face was a brewing storm. He began to mutter repeatedly. "Damn. Damn. Damn. Damn! I cannot fight a sea battle with littered decks!" His fin went up, that piece of his right arm that remained, and flapped when he became agitated. It tried to motion to the Italian soldiers sprawled on his main deck, not to mention those in the way of the guns below.
"Is this intelligence certain, Captain Arthur?" asked Hardy.
"It was a missive from Lord Keith, sir. He sent it to Troubridge, knowing he was guarding the Bay of Naples,... rather than you, my Lord," he said to Nelson.
Hamilton joined the officers. Hardy quietly informed of the turn of events.
Nelson pinched the bridge of his nose with a tremendous sigh, feeling an exasperation and frustration that was reaching a magnitude of the first order. Patience was needed. "Turn us around, Hardy."
Hamilton looked disbelieving at the naval officers. "But why?"
"We cannot fight with nearly four hundred soldiers and their equipment in the way, Lord Hamilton. We will have to return them to Palermo," informed Hardy.
"This is incredible, Nelson! Must we?"
Nelson did not answer him. Hamilton looked at Hardy.
"We must, Sir William," he advised.
"Hardy, signal Northumberland, Powerful, Audacious and Goliath of our return. Signal the others to make sail for Naples and join Troubridge. He will need all the help he can get if this is true." Nelson stalked off the main deck.
Hornblower and Kennedy were in earshot and heard the news. They were crest fallen.
"Back to Palermo?" asked Archie. "Not again!"
"He's right," confessed Hornblower with resignation. "He's right. We cannot fight with these men in the way." Hornblower retreated to the taff, shaking his head in disbelief. "God." All the loading of these men and equipment. The time it took to row them out. The time it took to sail thus far! And now? Do it all again?... only in reverse order,... and then!...sail back to Naples. He closed his eyes and shook his head. "Pamela...you just would not believe it!" he muttered and hung his head. "You would not believe it."