Nelson was leaning over his desk, arm crooked, head down, looking for all the world as if he was absorbed in the sea-chart spread out in front of him. Hardy, however, saw the ruse for what it was. No one, not even Britain’s greatest ever naval hero, could find that much to fascinate him in that particular stretch of Cape Trafalgar. And besides, he recognised that strained look about Nelson’s mouth only too well.
“Sir? Are you feeling well?”
“Quite well, Hardy,” Nelson replied, rather too quickly. He gave a slightly wobbly grin. “What’s a little bit of rain to men like us, eh?”
As if in indignation at being called a “little bit of rain”, the storm outside seemed to increase in fury. A high wave reared up and broke against the window of the admiral’s cabin, and the wind rattled the panes fitfully. The Victory rocked to larboard, groaning, and all the furniture in the cabin slid across the floor a fraction. Nelson’s face flushed green.
Hardy was at his side in a moment with a handy bowl, which he put down on the floor between Nelson’s feet, and Nelson retched into it. Hardy patted his epauletted shoulder in an attempt to soothe him until the sickness had passed.
When Nelson had finished, Hardy quickly disposed of the bowl before returning to Nelson’s side. He allowed Hardy to take off the heavily-medalled jacket and drape it over the back of his chair before laying a comforting hand on his back. Nelson’s skin was damp with a chilly layer of sweat that made the fine linen of his shirt cling to him. But Hardy ignored that, and rubbed his palm in slow circles between Nelson’s shoulder blades, a steady counterpoint to the bucking and tilting of the Victory as she was tossed about on the sea.
“Why don’t you lie down for a while, sir?” he asked, as Nelson gave a soft groan.
But Nelson shook his head. “Can’t abide the rocking of my cot in this sort of weather, you know that. No, better to sit up and do some work. Sea-battles don’t plan themselves, what?”
“Well, why don’t I go and see if Dr. Beatty doesn’t have anything he can give you to make it more bearable?”
“Indeed you won’t, Hardy. Beatty has far more important things to do with his time than coddle me for a spot of seasickness.”
“Well, then,” said Hardy, with a fond look at the admiral, “what about a brandy, sir?”
Nelson looked up at him and smiled. “Damn fine idea, Hardy. I’ll have the brandy.”
Hardy smiled back. “At once, sir.”
He went over to the sideboard and poured out two glasses of brandy. When he returned to the desk, he found Nelson with his head bowed, fighting off another wave of sickness. Hardy set the glasses down and rounded the desk, crouching down next to Nelson to rub his back and murmur reassurances to him. When the nausea passed again, Nelson raised his head and gave a wan smile.
“What would I do without you, eh, Hardy?”
Hardy slipped an arm around Nelson’s shoulder and placed a kiss on his clammy cheek. “Oh, you’d manage, sir.”