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Hornblower sat forward on the seat of the coach and peered out of the window.

“Wind’s veering nor’ard a little,” he said. “West-by-north now, I should say.”

“Yes, dear,” said Barbara patiently.

“I beg your pardon, dear,” said Hornblower. “I interrupted you. You were telling me about my shirts.”

“No. I had finished telling you about those, dear. What I was saying was that you must not let anyone unpack the flat sea-chest until the cold weather comes. Your sheepskin coat and your big fur cloak are in it, with plenty of camphor, and they’ll be safe from moth just as they are. Have the chest put straight below when you go on board.”

“Yes, dear.”

The coach was clattering over the cobbles of Upper Deal. Barbara stirred a little and took Hornblower’s hand in hers again.

“I don’t like talking about furs,” she said. “I hope — oh, I hope so much — that you’ll be back before the cold weather comes.”

“So do I, dear,” said Hornblower, with perfect truth.

It was gloomy and dark inside the coach, but the light from the window shone on Barbara’s face, illuminating it like a saint’s in church. The mouth beneath the keen aquiline nose was set firm; there was nothing soft about the grey-blue eyes. No one could tell from Lady Barbara’s expression that her heart was breaking; but she had slipped off her glove, and her hand was twining feverishly in Hornblower’s.

“Come back to me, dear. Come back to me!” said Barbara softly.

“Of course I will,” said Hornblower.

For all her patrician birth, for all her keen wit, for all her iron self-control, Barbara could say foolish things just like any blowsy wife of any ordinary seaman. It made Hornblower love her more dearly than ever that she should say pathetically ‘come back to me’ as if he had power over the French or Russian cannon-balls that would be aimed at him. Yet in that moment a horrible thought shot up in Hornblower’s mind, like a bloated corpse rising to the surface from the ooze at the bottom of the sea. Lady Barbara had seen a husband off to war once before, and he had not returned. He had died under the surgeon’s knife at Gibraltar after a splinter had torn open his groin in the battle of Rosas Bay. Was Barbara thinking of that dead husband now, at this moment? Hornblower shuddered a little at the thought, and Barbara, despite the close sympathy that always existed between them, misinterpreted the movement.

“My darling,” she said, “my sweet.”

She brought her other hand up and touched his cheek, and her lips sought his. He kissed her, fighting down the dreadful doubt that assailed him. He had contrived for months not to be jealous of the past — he was annoyed with himself for allowing it to happen at this time of all times, and his annoyance added to the devil’s brew of emotions within him. The touch of her lips won him over; his heart came out to her, and he kissed her with all the passion of his love, while the coach lurched unstably over the cobbles. Barbara’s monumental hat threatened to come adrift; she had to withdraw from his arms to set it straight and to restore herself to her normal dignity. She was aware of, even if she had misinterpreted, the turmoil in Hornblower’s soul, and she deliberately began a new line of conversation which would help them both to recover their composure ready for their imminent appearance in public again.

“I am pleased,” she said, “whenever I think of the high compliment the government is paying you in giving you this new appointment.”

“I am pleased that you are pleased, dear,” said Hornblower.

“Hardly more than half-way up the Captains’ list, and yet they are giving you this command. You will be an admiral in petto.”

She could have said nothing that could calm Hornblower more effectively. He grinned to himself at Barbara’s mistake. She was trying to say that he would be an admiral on a small scale, in miniature, en petit as it would be phrased in French. But en petit meant nothing like in petto, all the same. In petto was Italian for ‘in the breast’; when the Pope appointed a cardinal in petto it meant that he intended to keep the appointment to himself for a time without making it public. It tickled Hornblower hugely to hear Barbara guilty of a solecism of that sort. And it made her human again in his eyes, of the same clay as his own. He warmed to her afresh, with tenderness and affection supplementing passion and love.

The coach came to a stop with a lurch and a squeaking of brakes, and the door opened. Hornblower jumped out and handed Barbara down before looking round him. It was blowing half a gale, west-by-north, undoubtedly. This morning it had been a strong breeze, southwesterly, so that it was both veering and strengthening. A little more northing in the wind and they would be weather-bound in the Downs until it backed again. The loss of an hour might mean the loss of days. Sky and sea were grey, and there were whitecaps a-plenty. The East India convoy was visible at anchor some way out — as far as they were concerned the wind had only to veer a trifle for them to up-anchor and start down-Channel. There was other shipping to the northward, and presumably the Nonsuch and the flotilla were there, but without a glass it was too far to tell ship from ship. The wind whipped round his ears and forced him to hold his hat on tightly. Across the cobbled street was the jetty with a dozen Deal luggers riding to it.

Brown stood waiting for orders while the coachman and footman were hauling the baggage out of the boot.

“I’ll have a hoveller take me out to the ship, Brown,” said Hornblower. “Make a bargain for me.”

He could have had a signal sent from the castle to the Nonsuch for a boat, but that would consume precious time. Barbara was standing beside him, holding on to her hat; the wind flapped her skirt round her like a flag. Her eyes were grey this morning — if sea and sky had been blue her eyes would have been blue too. And she was making herself smile at him.

“If you are going out to the ship in a lugger, dear,” she said, “I could come too. The lugger could bring me back.”

“You will be wet and cold,” said Hornblower. “Close-hauled and with this wind it will be a rough passage.”

“Do you think I mind?” said Barbara, and the thought of leaving her tore at his heartstrings again.

Brown was back again already, and with him a couple of Deal boatmen, handkerchiefs bound round their heads and ear-rings in their ears; their faces, burned by the wind and pickled by the salt, a solid brown like wood. They laid hold of Hornblower’s sea-chests and began to carry them as if they were feathers towards the jetty; in nineteen years of war innumerable officers had had their chests carried down to Deal jetty. Brown followed them, and Hornblower and Lady Barbara brought up the rear, Hornblower clutching tenaciously the leather portfolio containing his ‘most secret’ orders.

“Morning, Captain,” The captain of the lugger knuckled his forehead to Hornblower. “Morning, Your Ladyship. All the breeze anyone wants to-day. Still, you’ll be able to weather the Goodwins, Captain, even with those unweatherly bombs of yours. Wind’s fair for the Skaw once you’re dear of the Downs.”

So that was military secrecy in this England; this Deal hoveller knew just what force he had and whither he was bound — and to-morrow, as likely as not, he would have a rendezvous in mid-Channel with a French chasse-marée, exchanging tobacco for brandy and news for news. In three days Bonaparte in Paris would know that Hornblower had sailed for the Baltic with a ship of the line and a flotilla.