Yet even while he sat there, almost despairing, almost disconsolate, the lure of the problems of the future began to make itself felt. He was being given a free hand by the Admiralty — he could not complain on that score. Reval froze in December; Kronstadt often in November. While the ice lasted he would have to base himself farther down the Baltic. Did Lubeck ever freeze? In any case it would be better to —Hornblower abruptly pushed his chair back from the table, quite unconscious of what he was doing. For him to think imaginatively while sitting still was quite impossible; he could do it for no longer than he could hold his breath; such a comparison was the more apt because if he was compelled to sit still when his brain was active he exhibited some of the characteristic symptoms of slow strangulation — his blood pressure mounted, and he thrashed about restlessly.
To-night there was no question of having to sit still; having pushed back his chair he was able to pace up and down the room, from the table to the window and back again, a walk quite as long and perhaps more free from obstacles than he had known on many a quarter-deck. He had hardly begun when the sitting-room door opened quietly and Brown peered in through the crack, his attention attracted by the sound of the chair scraping on the floor. For Brown one glance was enough. The Captain had begun to walk, which meant that he would not be going to bed for a very long time.
Brown was an intelligent man who used his brains on this job of looking after the Captain. He closed the door again quietly, and waited a full ten minutes before entering the room. In ten minutes Hornblower had got well into the swing of his walk and his thoughts were pursuing a torrential course from which they could not easily be diverted. Brown was able to creep into the room without distracting his master — indeed, it would be very hard to say if Hornblower knew he entered or not. Brown, timing his moves accurately against the Captain’s crossings of the room, was able to reach the candles and snuff them — they had begun to gutter and to smell horribly —and then to reach the fireplace and put more coal on the fire, which had died down to red embers. Then he was able to make his way out of the room and settle down to a long wait; usually the Captain was a considerate master who would not dream of keeping his servant up late merely eventually to put his master to bed. It was because Brown was aware of this that he did not resent the fact that to-night Hornblower had forgotten for once to tell him that he might go to bed.
Up and down the room walked Hornblower, with a regular, measured stride, turning with his foot two inches from the wainscoting under the window on one side, and on the other with his hip just brushing the end of the table as he turned. Russians and Swedes, convoys and privateers, Stockholm and Danzig, all these gave him plenty to think about. It would be cold in the Baltic, too, and he would have to make plans for conserving his crews’ health in cold weather. And the first thing he must do the moment his flotilla was assembled must be to see that in every vessel there was an officer who could be relied upon to read and transmit signals correctly. Unless communications were good all discipline and organization was wasted and he might as well not try to make any plans at all. Bomb-ketches had the disadvantage of —
At this point Hornblower was distracted by a knocking at the door.
“Come in,” he rasped.
The door opened slowly, and revealed to his gaze both Brown and a scared innkeeper in a green baize apron.
“What is it?” snapped Hornblower. Now that he had halted in his quarter-deck walk he was suddenly aware that he was tired; much had happened since the Squire of Smallbridge had been welcomed by his tenants that morning, and the feeling in his legs told him that he must have been doing a fair amount of walking.
Brown and the innkeeper exchanged glances, and then the innkeeper took the plunge.
“It’s like this, sir,” he began, nervously. “His Lordship is in number four just under this sitting-room, sir. His Lordship’s a man of hasty temper, sir, beggin’ your pardon, sir. He says — beggin’ your pardon again, sir — he says that two in the morning’s late enough for anyone to walk up and down over his head. He says —”
“Two in the morning?” demanded Hornblower.
“It’s nearer three, sir,” interposed Brown, tactfully.
“Yes, sir, it struck the half-hour just when he rang for me the second time. He says if only you’d knock something over, or sing a song, it wouldn’t be so bad. But just to hear you walking up and down, sir — His Lordship says it makes him think about death and Judgement Day. It’s too regular, like. I told him who you was, sir, the first time he rang. And now —”
Hornblower had come to the surface by now, fully emerged from the wave of thought that had engulfed him. He saw the nervous gesticulations of the innkeeper, caught between the devil of this unknown Lordship downstairs and the deep sea of Captain Sir Horatio Hornblower upstairs, and he could not help smiling — in fact it was only with an effort that he prevented himself from laughing outright. He could visualize the whole ludicrous business, the irascible unknown peer down below, the innkeeper terrified of offending one or other of his two wealthy and influential guests, and as a crowning complication Brown stubbornly refusing to allow until the last possible moment any intrusion upon his master’s deliberations. Hornblower saw the obvious relief in the two men’s faces when he smiled, and that really made him laugh this time. His temper had been short of late and Brown had expected an explosion, while the wretched innkeeper never expected anything else — innkeepers never looked for anything better than tantrums from the people fate compelled them to entertain. Hornblower remembered damning Brown’s eyes without provocation only that very morning: Brown was not quite as clever as he might be, for this morning Hornblower had been fretting as an unemployed naval officer doomed to country life, while this evening he was a Commodore with a flotilla awaiting him and nothing in the world could upset his temper — Brown had not allowed for that.
“My respects to His Lordship,” he said. “Tell him that the march of doom will cease from this moment. Brown, I shall go to bed.”
The innkeeper fled in huge relief down the stairs, while Brown seized a candlestick — the candle in it was burned down to a stump — and lit his master through into the bedroom. Hornblower peeled off his coat with the epaulettes of heavy bullion, and Brown caught it just in time to save it falling to the floor. Shoes and shirt and trousers followed, and Hornblower pulled on the magnificent nightshirt which was laid out on the bed; a nightshirt of solid China silk, brocaded, with faggoting at the cuffs and neck, for which Barbara had sent a special order all the way to the East through her friends in the East India Company. The blanket-wrapped brick in the bed had cooled a good deal, but had diffused its warmth gratefully over much of the area; Hornblower snuggled down into its mild welcome.
“Good night, sir,” said Brown, and darkness rushed into the room from out of the corners as he extinguished the candle. Tumultuous dreams rushed with it. Whether asleep or awake — next morning Hornblower could not decide which — his mind was turning over all through the rest of the night the endless implications of this coming campaign in the Baltic, where his life and his reputation and his self-respect would be once more at stake.