The Happy Return
Author C. S. Forester
Publication 1937
Published by Michael Joseph, London
Publication Order
Preceded by
Followed by
A Ship of the Line
Jun 1808 Oct 1808
Preceded by
Hornblower and the Atropos
Followed by
A Ship of the Line

The Happy Return was the first of the Horatio Hornblower novels written by C.S. Forester, originally published in 1937. This book is the sixth by internal chronology of the series (including the unfinished Hornblower and the Crisis).

The book is known as Beat to Quarters in the United States. The name derives from the expression "beat to quarters", the signal to prepare for combat.

Plot SummaryEdit

In June of 1808 Hornblower is in command of the 36-gun frigate HMS Lydia, with orders to sailing to the Pacific coast of Nicaragua and supply a local landowner, Don Julian Alvarado, with muskets and powder. Don Julian is ready to revolt against the Spanish (at this point allied with Napoleon). Upon meeting with the man however, Hornblower discovers he is mad, a megalomaniac going by the title El Supremo ("the Almighty") and viewing himself as a deity.

While Hornblower replenishes his supplies, the 50-gun Spanish ship Natividad is sighted off the coast heading his way. Unwilling to risk fighting the much more powerful ship in a sea battle, Hornblower hides nearby until it anchors and then captures it in a daring, surprise night-time boarding. El Supremo demands that it be turned over to him so that he may have a navy. After hiding the captured Spanish officers to save them from being murdered by El Supremo, Hornblower, needing his erstwhile ally's cooperation, has no choice, but to accede. After offloading the war supplies for El Supremo, Hornblower sails south. Off the coast of Panama, he encounters a Spanish lugger; an envoy informs him of a new alliance between Spain and England against Napoleon.

Another passenger, the Englishwoman Lady Barbara Wellesley, comes on board as well. The packet ship she was on in the Caribbean had been captured some time ago. Freed by Spain's about-face and fleeing a yellow fever epidemic ashore, she requests transportation back to England. He reluctantly takes Lady Barbara and her maid aboard, warning her that he must first hunt and destroy the Natividad before El Supremo can ravage the entire coast of Central America.

In the desperate fight to the death, Hornblower uses masterful tactics to sink the Natividad, though the Lydia takes heavy damage herself. Limping back to Panama to effect repairs, Hornblower (now that there is no further threat from the Natividad) is curtly informed that he is not welcome in any Spanish-American port. He manages to find a natural harbor on the island of Coiba, where he refits.

After completing repairs, Hornblower runs into the haughty Spanish official once more. He is invited aboard the other's ship for some interesting news. There he finds El Supremo, a wretched captive chained to the deck, on his way to his execution.

Hornblower sets sail for England. On the long voyage, he and Lady Barbara become strongly attracted to each other. Nearing the end of their trip, she makes the first overt advances; Hornblower demurs, explaining that he is married. Also, as a man of humble social standing, he cannot afford to risk offending the influential Wellesley clan by dallying with her. After the rejection, the embarrassed Lady Barbara avoids him as best she can. Fortunately, an English convoy is sighted soon afterwards and she transfers to a more spacious ship. They make stilted, formal good-byes.

Adaptations Edit

The first half of the 1951 motion picture adaptation Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N., was based on The Happy Return, with minor changes mostly done by C. S. Forester himself. The film starred Gregory Peck as Hornblower, Virginia Mayo as Lady Barbara, Robert Beatty as Mr. Bush, and Alec Mango as El Supremo.

References Edit

Characters Edit

Ships Edit

Locations Edit

External links Edit

Previous: Next:
(first) Published A Ship of the Line
Hornblower and the Atropos Chronology A Ship of the Line

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