Hornblower was staring forward at the Prussian army, at the glitter of bayonets and the flags black against the snow.
“I want to go up to the Prussians,” he said.
The discharge of the battery close at hand drowned the words Essen said in reply, but what he meant to say was plain enough.
“I am going,” said Hornblower stubbornly. He looked round and caught Clausewitz’s eye. “Are you coming too, Colonel?”
“Of course he cannot,” expostulated Essen. “He cannot risk being taken.”
As a renegade, a man fighting against his own country, Clausewitz was likely to be hanged if ever the Prussians laid hands on him.
“It would be better if he came,” said Hornblower, woodenly.
This was a strange feeling of simultaneous clairvoyance and illness.
“I’ll go with the Commodore,” said Clausewitz suddenly, making what was probably the bravest decision of his life. Perhaps he was carried away by Hornblower’s automaton-like recklessness.
Essen shrugged his shoulders at this madness which had descended upon them.
“Go, then,” he said. “Perhaps I may be able to capture enough generals to exchange for you.”
They trotted forward up the road; Hornblower heard Essen bellow an order to the battery commander to cease fire. He looked back; Brown was trotting after them, a respectful five lengths behind. They passed close to some of the Cossack light horse, who looked at them curiously, and then they were in among Prussian skirmishers, who, from the shelter of rocks and inequalities in the ground, were taking long shots at the Cossacks. No one fired at them as they rode boldly through. A Prussian captain beside the road saluted them, and Clausewitz returned the salute. Just beyond the skirmishing line was the first formed infantry, a Prussian regiment in battalion columns of companies, two on one side of the road and one on the other. The colonel and his staff were standing in the road staring at the odd trio approaching them — the British naval officer in his blue and gold, Clausewitz in his Russian uniform with the row of medals, and the British seaman with cutlass and pistols at his belt. The colonel asked a question in a loud dry tone as they approached, and Clausewitz answered it, reining in.
“Tell them we must see the general,” said Hornblower in French to Clausewitz.
There was a rapid exchange of dialogue between Clausewitz and the colonel, ending in the latter calling up two or three mounted officers — his adjutant and majors, perhaps — to accompany them up the road. Here they saw a larger infantry force formed up, and a line of guns, and here was a party on horseback, the feathers and braid and medals and mounted orderlies indicating the presence of a general’s staff. This must be the general — Yorck, Hornblower remembered his name to be. He recognized Clausewitz at once, and addressed him abruptly in German. A few words on each side seemed only to add to the tension of the situation, and there was a short pause.
“He speaks French,” said Clausewitz to Hornblower, and they both turned and waited for him to speak.
“General,” said Hornblower; he was in a dream, but he made himself speak in his dream. “I represent the King of England, and Colonel Clausewitz represents the Emperor of Russia. We are fighting to free Europe from Bonaparte. Are you fighting to maintain him as a tyrant?”
It was a rhetorical question to which no answer was possible. Silent perforce, Yorck could only await the rest of what Hornblower had to say.
“Bonaparte is beaten. He is retreating from Moscow, and not ten thousand of his army will reach Germany. The Spaniards have deserted him, as you know. So have the Portuguese. All Europe is turning upon him, having found out how little his promises mean. You know of his treatment of Germany — I need not tell you about that. If you fight for him you may keep him on his tottering throne for a few days longer. You may drag out Germany’s agony by that length of time. But your duty is to your enslaved country, to your King who is a prisoner. You can free them. You can end the useless pouring-out of the blood of your men now, at this moment.”
Yorck looked away from him, over the bleak countryside, at the Russian army slowly deploying, before he replied.
“What do you suggest?” he said.
That was all Hornblower wanted to hear. If Yorck was willing to ask questions, instead of immediately making prisoners of them, the matter was ass good as settled. He could leave the discussion to Clausewitz, and sink back into the weariness which was rising round him like a tide. He brought Clausewitz into the conversation with a glance.
“An armistice,” said Clausewitz. “An immediate suspension of hostilities. The definitive terms can be settled easily enough at leisure.”
Yorck still hesitated for a moment. Hornblower, despite his weariness and illness, could study him with a renewed flicker of interest; the hard face, surnburned to mahogany, the white hair and moustache in strange contrast. Yorck was on the edge of his fate. At present he was a loyal subject of the King of Prussia, a comparatively undistinguished general. He had only to say two words, and they would make him a traitor now and conceivably an historic figure in the future. Prussia’s defection — at any rate, the defection of the Prussian army — would reveal the hollowness of the Napoleonic Empire in a way nothing else could do. It rested with Yorck.
“I agree,” said Yorck.
That was all Hornblower wanted to hear. He could lapse into his dream — his nightmare — now, let the rest of the discussion take whatever course it would. When Clausewitz turned back down the road Hornblower’s horse followed him without any guidance from Hornblower. Brown appeared, just his face; there was nothing else that Hornblower could see.
“Are you all right, sir?”
“Of course I am,” said Hornblower automatically. The earth that Hornblower found himself treading was soft, as though he were walking on feather beds or on a loosely stretched bit of sailcloth. It might be better to lie down. And Hornblower was suddenly conscious that there was something beautiful about music after all. He had gone all his life thinking that it was only an irritating muddle of noises, but revelation had come to him at last. It was lovely, ecstatic, this music that he heard, peals and peals of it, great soaring melodies. He had to raise up his voice to join in with it, to sing and sing and sing. And then the music ended in a final crashing chord, leaving a silence in which his voice sounded hoarse, like a crow’s. He stopped, feeling rather embarrassed. It was as well that somebody else was available to take up the song. The boatman was singing as he pulled at his sculls.
“Row, row, row you together to Hampton Court —”
A delightful tenor voice; on account of it Hornblower was ready to excuse the wherryman for such an impertinence as singing while he rowed up the river.
“Rowing in sunshiny weather —”
Barbara beside him was laughing deliciously. The sunshine was beautiful and so were the green lawns on the river banks. He had to laugh too, laugh and laugh. And here was little Richard climbing over his knees. What the devil was Brown doing, staring at him like this?
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