Hornblower turned to the gun crews. "Men, I trust you will give that French marshal a show of the gunnery that won Trafalgar and Lissa."
"Aye, sir. We will, sir," the sailors replied.
"Though I doubt that the rest of these lubbers would know a carronade from a lemonade," Hornblower said wryly. The sailors grinned, and one of them cheered, "Good, old Horny! You tell 'em!" Clearly pleased, Hornblower pretended to ignore him.
"Rifles on deck," young Gerard called out as a small party of soldiers marched into the courtyard. Moving in perfect step, they formed up in two neat ranks near the timpani.
These were professional soldiers, not tradesmen and farmers turned militiamen. Bush watched them uneasily, but he remembered what Mr. Bennett had said. "Those must be the muskets that Mr. Bennett was talking about," he told the commodore. "Though I'll be damned if I recognize their colors."
"They're Murat's troops. That's the flag of Naples."
"They're from the French army?" Bush had to restrain himself from shouting. French soldiers were standing less than ten feet away, and the gun crews were armed with nothing more than knives.
"Some of them are, no doubt," Hornblower said. "Though now they give their allegiance to Naples and her allies."
The gun crews scowled at the Frenchmen. A sailor spat on the ground and muttered under his breath, "I say a Frog's a Frog under any colors."
"These Frogs are on our side now," Bush said loudly, though secretly he agreed. "And you are to treat them as our loyal allies, and any man who does not will answer for it. Is that clear?"
"Aye, aye, sir," the men murmured with little enthusiasm.
"Such are the changing winds of politics, Mr. Bush," Hornblower said in a low voice. "Today's enemies are tomorrow's allies. Murat isn't the only one here with shifting allegiance."
Bush nodded. "Russia." Tsar Alexander was a former ally of Napoleon.
"And don't forget that the Austrians changed sides to suit their own advantage."
"The lot of 'em have less honor than a Kingston whore, sir." Bush thanked the Almighty that he was a simple sailor who could tell friend from foe. There was never any doubt which way to aim the ship's cannon.
"Ah, Commodore Hornblower! There you are!" Mr. Bennett hurried up to them, his chest heaving in his flowered waistcoat. "Commodore Hornblower, may I present to you Herr Ludwig von Beethoven, composer to the Austrian Court? I am afraid that you will need to speak up---Herr Beethoven is a trifle deaf."
"I am honored, sir," Hornblower shouted, removing his hat and bowing.
Instead of returning the courtesy, Beethoven stared at the guns. "My cannon are here!" he exclaimed in thickly-accented English. Slowly, he walked around one of the eighteen-pounders, peered into the bore, and then patted the barrel. "Good. Very good. And which one of you is the musician?" he asked briskly, looking from Hornblower to Bush.
"I am, sir," Bush bellowed in the voice that he used when hailing the topmen. "Captain William Bush at your service."
Beethoven pulled a handful of papers from his jacket. "Here is the part for the cannons, Captain." He handed the papers to Bush. "As you can see, there is nothing…nothing…nothing…then the first violins play "God Save the King" and then right here—" he stabbed at the page with his finger—"Bang!"
Seized with mad panic, Bush stared at the score. His piano lessons in Chichester had not prepared him for this. The first stave was marked cannone so he guessed that was his part. The notes for the guns were written as small black circles above the top line. Then he realized that, on the second stave, there were cues written in for him to follow. Below the words violino I were the opening measures of "God Save the King."
"Can you follow the part? There is no time for rehearsal."
"Aye, aye, sir," Bush shouted into Beethoven's ear.
After the composer had left with Mr. Bennett, Hornblower peered over his shoulder at the score.
"This will be quite easy, sir," Bush explained. "We just follow the music until the fiddles play 'God Save the King'." He pointed to the notes and hummed the tune.
Hornblower stared at the page blankly. "Of course." Bush had forgot that the commodore was utterly tone-deaf. "But you will need to take into account the delay in firing time, Captain."
"You're right, sir. I hadn't thought of that," Bush replied, and the two of them happily discussed whether to fire the cannon using the flintlock or a timed fuse.
They were interrupted by a footman who had been sent to show the commodore to the dais on the other side of the courtyard.
"They must be about to begin. Mr. Bennett had to negotiate the seating arrangements, and I don't envy him. That's not an easy task when half the guests aren't on speaking terms. Well, good luck, Captain," Hornblower said. They shook hands as if he were about to fight a shore engagement, then the commodore left.
Bush saw that the Tsar and Marshal Murat were already seated on the high dais. A row of columns ran along the each side of the courtyard, forming a shadowy alley, but the courtyard itself was brightly lit by torches and lamps. The audience sparkled with gems and gold braid.
The musicians hurried to their seats, and Beethoven took his place on the box in front of them. Though not a tall man, he had broad shoulders and the massive arms of a ship's blacksmith. He glanced around to see that he had their attention, glowering from under his bushy eyebrows, then he waved his cane threateningly and the drums and trumpets began to play.
Bush had not been sure whether he would like such modern music, but this was fine and stirring stuff. First there was a French tune, and Murat's riflemen fired a volley, aiming high into the air, and then the trumpets played "Rule Britannia." Beside him, young Gerard was tapping his foot in time with the drums.
When the fiddles started scraping "God Save the King," Bush drew his dress sword and began counting out the measures to himself. One-two-three. Two-two-three. Three-two-three. Four-two-three… The gun crews intently watched for his signal, and as he brought down the sword, they fired. The cannon flared then kicked back, unfettered by the ringbolts on a ship's deck. Someone in the audience shrieked as a cloud of smoke drifted across the courtyard. The sailors were grinning and laughing like madmen.
They reloaded the cannon and fired again at Bush's signal. Then it was the turn of the French riflemen. Bush watched as they loaded their arms and fired, loaded and fired again. The speed and precision of their drill filled him with grudging admiration. But then on the last volley, one of the shots was late, stuttering after the others. He would have thought nothing of it, thought that a rifleman's hand had slipped on the trigger, if he had not seen the grey puff of smoke drifting from between two columns. Someone had fired from behind Murat's troops.
From where they sat, the audience couldn't have seen the shot, and the musicians played on, unaware of their danger. The trumpets and tubas were blaring "God Save the King" so loudly that no one would hear him shouting. Cursing his wooden leg, Bush ran as fast as he could toward the hidden assassin. He hoped that young Gerard would have enough sense to follow him.
There was no sign of panic on the dais so the bullet must have missed its mark, but a well-trained rifleman could reload in thirty seconds. Bush had to find him before he could take a second shot. To the right of where he had seen the smoke, Bush ran into the alley of columns. Staring at his target, the sharpshooter might not see an attack from the side.
Bush advanced slowly, keeping to the shadows by the palace wall, away from the light that fell between the columns. He hoped that the noise of the orchestra would cover the sound of his footsteps. Damnation, where is Gerard? Busy watching the ladies, no doubt.
Ahead, a dark figure stood in the lee of a column. Sword raised, Bush rushed forward—then just as abruptly stopped.
"Thank God you are here, Captain." Mr. Bennett held out a rifle. "Look what I found. The barrel is still warm."
Tucking the sword under his left arm, Bush took the rifle and quickly examined it. French, by the looks of it, though that proved nothing since the weapon could have been captured. It had been reloaded for the frizzen was shut and ready to fire. The assassin must have heard the diplomat's approach and fled before he could take a second shot. He had left his rifle behind, but he could be armed with other weapons. "We must raise the alarm," Bush said, handing the rifle back to Bennett.
The diplomat stared at the rifle with horror. "Good God. He could easily have killed the Tsar or Murat. The repercussions would have been endless." In the dim light, Bush suddenly noticed a dark smudge on his jaw, in the spot where a rifleman cradled the weapon against his face.
"He still might, if we don't stop him," Bush said, watching the other man closely.
Swinging the rifle like a club, Bennett leaped forward. Bush brought up the sword and turned aside the blow aimed at his head, but he fell to the ground as Bennett struck him behind the knees. He rolled over clumsily, hindered by his wooden leg. Still lying on the pavement, he managed to untangled the sword and rake it across the diplomat's lower legs. Bennett struck the blade from his hands and raised the rifle for the killing blow. But then the diplomat made an odd sound of surprise, dropped to his knees, and fell forward on his face. Behind him stood Beethoven, wielding a bassoon. His thick eyebrows were drawn together in a scowl.
Leaning over Bush, the composer asked, "Are you injured?"
"No, sir," Bush replied in a choked shout. He ached all over, but he knew from long experience that nothing hurt enough to be broken.
"Good. The audience will demand an encore, and I don't want to disappoint them."
Bush gawked up at him, at a loss for words.
"Captain, I am making a joke! You English are so humorless." The composer took Bush by the arm and steadied him as he got to his feet.
"How did you know to follow me, sir?"
"I am deaf, not blind. From the podium, I saw the smoke of the shot when I turned to cue the piccolos for their entrance. And then I saw you leave, and I thought you might need my assistance."
"And, by God, I did. I am deeply in your debt, sir." He pressed the composer's hand.
Young Gerard and the gun crews burst into the alley, followed by Murat's riflemen, and then by Hornblower and the marshal himself. Soon they were joined by most of the orchestra and the guests. Mr. Bennett, badly stunned but still alive, was carried away by the palace sentries.
"What will they do with him, sir?" Bush asked Hornblower.
The commodore shook his head. "They will turn him over to the local gendarmerie, but I doubt they will hold him for trial. The British consul will intervene on his behalf."
"Who do you think he was aiming at?"
"Murat," the commodore said shortly. "The Tsar is much more easily led."
"More politics?" Bush asked with a scowl. No doubt this Murat did deserve to be shot. God knows what crimes he had committed in the name of the French Emperor. Yet, in the King's Navy, even the lowest mutineer was given the chance to defend himself at a court-martial. Bush glanced toward Murat with a strange feeling of pity. Surrounded by enemies, did the marshal ever long for the days when he was a common soldier?
As if he guessed Bush's thoughts, Hornblower said, "If you'll be so good as to return to the ship. Have her ready to sail with the tide."
Waving the bassoon over his head, Beethoven hailed them as he shouldered his way through the crowd. "I think this concert is over, gentlemen," he said. "A most resounding finale. Captain Bush, you have the makings of a fine percussionist. I can easily find a place for you with the Court orchestra in Vienna."
Bush couldn't tell whether the man was in earnest or not. Hornblower made a choking sound that might have been a laugh. "I am honored by your kind offer, sir," Bush replied, "But I must refuse."
"Then until we meet again, Captain." Beethoven made a short bow from the waist then hurried off.
"Well, I'll be damned, sir," Bush said to Hornblower, and as far as he was concerned, that summed up the entire affair.