The smile transformed not only her expression but Hornblower’s whole mental outlook as well. Barbara ceased to be the great lady, the earl’s daughter with the bluest blood of the aristocracy in her veins, whose perfect poise and aplomb always afflicted Hornblower with the diffidence he detested; instead she became the woman who had stood unfrightened beside him upon the shot-torn decks of the Lydia in the Pacific, the woman who throbbed with love in his arms, the beloved companion and the companionable lover. Hornblower’s heart went out to her on the instant. He would have taken her in his arms and kissed her if it had not been that Hebe was in the room. But Barbara’s eyes met his and read in them what was in his mind. She smiled another smile at him; they were in perfect accord, with secrets shared between them, and the world was a brighter place for both of them.
Barbara pulled on a pair of white silk stockings, and knotted above her knees the scarlet silk garters. Hebe stood ready with her gown, and Barbara dived into it. The gown flapped and billowed as Barbara made her way into it, and then at last she emerged, her arms waving as they pushed into the sleeves, and her hair tousled. No one could be a great lady in those conditions, and Hornblower loved her more dearly than ever. Hebe settled the gown about her mistress, and hung a lace cape over her shoulders ready for the final adjustment of her hair. When the last pin had been inserted, the last curl fixed in place, the shoes eased upon her feet by a grovelling Hebe with a shoehorn, Barbara devoted her attention to settling on her head the vast hat with the roses and ribbons.
“And what is the time, my dear?” she asked.
“Nine o’clock,” said Hornblower, hauling his watch with an effort from out of the tense fob-pocket in the front of his trousers.
“Excellent,” said Barbara, reaching for the long white silk gloves which had come to her by devious smugglers’ routes from Paris. “Hebe, Master Richard will be ready now. Tell nurse to bring him to me. And I think, dear, that your ribbon and star would be in the spirit of this morning’s occasion.”
“At my own front door?” protested Hornblower.
“I fear so,” said Barbara. She wagged her head with its pyramid of roses, and this time it was not so much a smile that she bestowed upon him as a grin, and all Hornblower’s objections to wearing his star evaporated on the spot. It was a tacit admission that she attached no more importance, as far as he and she were concerned, to the ceremony of welcoming him as the new Squire of Smallbridge, than Hornblower himself. It was as if an augur winked.
In his bedroom Hornblower took the red ribbon of the Bath and the Star from the drawer in his wardrobe, and Brown found for him the dogskin gloves which he tugged on as he walked down the stairs. A scared housemaid dropped him a curtsey; in the hall stood Wiggins the butler with Hornblower’s tall beaver hat, and beside him John the footman in the new livery which Barbara had chosen. And here came Barbara with Richard in his nurse’s arms, Richard’s curls were pomaded into stiff decorum. The nurse set him down and twitched his petticoats and his lace collar into position, and Hornblower hastened to take one of his hands while Barbara took the other; Richard was not yet sufficiently accustomed to standing on his feet and was liable to go down on all fours in a way which might not suit the dignity of this morning’s ceremony. Wiggins and John threw open the door, and the three of them, Barbara and Hornblower with Richard between them, walked out to the head of the steps above the driveway, Hornblower remembering just in time to clap the tall hat on his head before crossing the threshold.
It seemed as if every inhabitant of Smallbridge were formed up below them. On one side was the parson with a herd of children; in front the four tenant farmers in ill-fitting broadcloth with their labourers in their smocks, and on the other side a cluster of women in aprons and bonnets. Behind the children the ostler at the Coach and Horses stuck a fiddle under his chin and played a note; the parson waved a hand and the children burst into shrill piping —
“See-ee the conk-ring he-ee-ee-ee-ero comes,
Sow-ow-ow-ow-ound the trum-pets, be-ee-ee-eat the drums!”
Obviously this was meant for Hornblower, and he took off his hat and stood awkwardly; the tune meant nothing to his tone-deaf ear, but he could distinguish some of the words. The chorus came to a ragged end, and the parson took a step forward.
“Your Ladyship,” he began, “Sir Horatio. Welcome in the name of the village. Welcome, Sir Horatio, with all the glory you have won in the war against the Corsican tyrant. Welcome, Your Ladyship, wife of the hero before us, sister of the hero commanding our valiant army now in Spain, daughter of the highest nobility in the land! Welcome —”
“Man!” yelled Richard unexpectedly. “Da-da!”
The parson took the interruption without flinching; already well in his stride, he continued to mouth out his fulsome sentences, telling of the joy the village of Smallbridge felt at finding itself in the ownership of a famous sailor. Hornblower was distracted from the discourse by the necessity of holding on tight to Richard’s hand — if Richard once got loose he evidently would go down on all fours and throw himself down the steps to make a closer acquaintance with the village children. Hornblower looked out over the lush green of the park; beyond it rose the massive curves of the Downs, and to one side the tower of Smallbridge church rose above the trees. On that side, too, an orchard was in full bloom, exquisitely lovely. Park and orchard and church were all his; he was the Squire, a landed gentleman, owner of many acres, being welcomed by his tenantry. Behind him was his house, full of his servants; on his breast the ribbon and star of an order of chivalry; and in London Coutts Company had in their vaults a store of golden guineas which were his as well. This was the climax of a man’s ambition. Fame, wealth, security, love, a child — he had all that heart could desire. Hornblower, standing at the head of the steps while the parson droned on, was puzzled to find that he was still not happy. He was irritated with himself in consequence. He ought to be running over with pride and joy and happiness, and yet here he was contemplating the future with faint dismay; dismay at thought of living on here, and positive distaste at the thought of spending the fashionable season in London, even though Barbara would be beside him all the time.
These disorderly thoughts of Hornblower’s were suddenly broken into. Something had been said which should not have been said, and as the parson was the only person speaking, he must have said it, although he was still droning along in obvious ignorance of any blunder. Hornblower stole a glance at Barbara; her white teeth showed for a moment against her lower lip, clear proof of her vexation to anyone who knew her well. Otherwise she was exhibiting the stoical calm of the British upper classes. What was it that had been said to upset her? Hornblower raked through his subconscious memory to recall the words the parson had been using, and which he had heard without attending. Yes, that was it. The stupid fool had spoken about Richard as though he were the child of both of them. It irritated Barbara unbearably to have her stepson taken to be her own child, and the more fond she grew of him the more it irritated her, curiously enough. But it was hard to blame the parson for his mistake; when a married pair arrives with a sixteen-months-old baby it is only natural to assume it to be their child.
The parson had finished now, and an awkward pause had already begun. Clearly something must be said in reply, and it was Hornblower’s business to say it.
“Ha-h’m,” said Hornblower — he had still not been married long enough to Barbara to have completely mastered that old habit — while he groped wildly for something to say. He ought to have been ready for this, of course; he ought to have been preparing a speech instead of standing day-dreaming. “Ha-h’m. It is with pride that I look over this English countryside —”