The scene is set. It is the 21st. October 1805. We are aboard the British Flagship HMS Victory during the Battle of Trafalgar. Naval Commander, Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson lies dying having been fatally wounded by a stray French bullet. As his breathing becomes shallow and his time is close, gathered about him are his colleagues, for they would never let this icon for all that is British die a lonely death.
Beatty the ships surgeon makes to stand aside, his voice discernibly choking up just a little as he mutters to those around him, “There is nothing more I can do for him.”
Revd. Scott , ‘Scotty’ to his buddies, lends an ear to Nelson’s whispers.
“What’s that he just said?” says Thomas, a captain and close friend of Horatio’s.
Revd. Scott replies, “I think he said, ‘Kiss me hardy,’ although Lord knows what that might mean.”
“Ask him again, it could be important,” says Midshipman Collingwood presumptuously.
“Don’t get above your station Collingwood. The Admiral is too weak to repeat the sentence just now. I’m pretty sure he said ‘Kiss me hardy’ though!” Revd. Scott snaps back at the boy.
Purser Walter Burke turns to the surgeon. “Beatty good fellow is there a part of the body called a ‘hardy’? Maybe that’s what he wants kissed.”
“Don’t be a bleddy burke, Burke we have no such part about us.”
“I was only asking; just thinking if we kissed this ‘hardy’ thing it might make him feel a bit better.”
“Don’t you think it’s a little worrying that it’s got the word ‘hard’ in it? Because if that’s what he wants kissed then I’m not bloody well doing it,” so says Guitano, the Admirals valet.
“Good God man, this is the navy, things like that go on all the time. If that’s what he really said you’ll do it and say no more about it,” Thomas interjects.
A short lived quiet descends upon the scene. It is Thomas who speaks first. “Maybe he was thinking about Fanny?”
Taken somewhat aback at this remark Revd. Scott says, “Do what! I’ll not have that kind of language – especially so at this time.”
“No, Revd. I meant his wife Fanny Nelson, formerly Fanny Nisbet.”
“Oh, I see,” replies Revd. Scott almost embarrassed.
Burke pipes up again, “Well we’re still no closer to knowing what this ‘hardy’ thing is. I doubt he was thinking about Fanny anyway ugly old boot that she is; we all know its Emma Hamilton he’s taken a shine to. Now she’s a bit of a looker; she could make any man har……”
“For crying out loud Burke, shut the f**k up,” says Revd. Scott unintentionally swearing for the very first time in his career, “The Admiral still has ears you know!”
“Not much else in the way of limbs though,” Guitano thinks aloud when he should have been thinking to himself.
“Look all of you I think we’ll just have to put this ‘hardy’ thing on ice. His time is nigh. Even from here I can see his lips part; he is, I detect, trying to say something,” Thomas says.
“What is it Horatio old fellow; what is it?” the reverend, leaning over the Admiral, lughole at the ready says. “Yes, I did hear you, I’ll make it known.”
“What was it; what did he tell you,” the assembled company ask in unison.
Nelson has no more air inside him; he is gone; done for. Nothing stirs below decks (well in Nelson’s case it doesn’t) – although atop the shit has hit the fan as the battle rages on.
“Well, his last words were, ‘God and my country’ of that I am sure,” Scott replies.
The silence is broken as Purser Walter Burke says, “God and my ‘what’ tree?”
Burke takes the thrashing of a lifetime!
*Editorial Note: For any who are not familiar with the death of Lord Nelson we can confirm that all the characters mentioned herein were at the scene of his demise. Perhaps importantly Captain Thomas’s full name was Thomas Hardy! He worked under Nelson (so to speak). Also, ‘Kiss me Hardy’ was his penultimate sentence; ‘God and my country,’ his final words!