“Easy with them cases!” roared the lugger captain suddenly. “Them bottles ain’t made o’ iron!”
They were lowering down into the lugger the rest of his baggage from the jetty; the additional cabin stores which Barbara had ordered for him and whose quality she had checked so carefully, a case of wine, a case of provisions, and the parcel of books which was her special present to him.
“Won’t you take a seat in the cabin, Your Ladyship?” asked the lugger captain with queer untutored politeness. “‘Twill be a wet run out to Nonsuch.”
Barbara caught Hornblower’s eye and refused politely; Hornblower knew those stuffy, smelly cabins of old.
“A tarpauling for Your Ladyship, then.”
The tarpaulin was fastened round Barbara’s shoulders, and hung round her to the deck like a candle extinguisher. The wind was still pulling at her hat, and she put up her hand and with a single gesture snatched it from her head and drew it inside the tarpaulin. The brisk wind blew her hair instantly into streamers, and she laughed, and with a shake of her head set her whole mane flying in the wind. Her cheeks flushed and her eyes sparkled, just as Hornblower could remember her in the old days when they rounded the Horn in Lydia. Hornblower wanted to kiss her.
“Cast off, there! Hands to the halliard!” roared the captain, coming aft and casually holding the tiller against his hip. The hands strained at the tackle, and the mainsail rose foot by foot; the lugger made a sternboard away from the jetty.
“Lively with that sheet now, Ge-arge!”
The captain hauled the tiller over, and the lugger checked herself, spun on her keel, and dashed forward, as handy as a horse in the hands of a skilful rider. As she came out from the lee of the jetty the wind took hold of her and laid her over, but the captain put down the tiller and Ge-arge hauled aft on the sheet until the sail was like a board, and the lugger, close-hauled — dramatically so to anyone unfamiliar with her type — plunged forward into the teeth of the gale, with the spray flying aft from her port bow in sheets. Even in the sheltered Downs there was enough of a sea running to make the lugger lively enough as she met it, pitch following roll as each wave passed under her from port bow to starboard quarter.
Hornblower suddenly realized that this was the moment when he should be seasick. He could not remember the start of any previous voyage when he had not been sick, and the motion of this lively little lugger should find him out if anything would. It was interesting that nothing of the sort was happening; Hornblower noticed with deep amazement that the horizon forward showed up above the boat’s bow, and then disappeared as the lugger stood up on her stern, without his feeling any qualm at all. It was not so surprising that he had retained his sea-legs; after twenty years at sea it was not easy to lose them, and he stood swaying easily with the boat’s quick motion; he only lost his sea-legs when he was really dizzy with seasickness, and that dread plague showed no sign of appearing. At the start of previous voyages he had always been worn out with the fatigues of fitting out and commissioning, of course short of sleep and worn down with anxieties and worries and ready to be sick even without going to sea. As Commodore he had had none of these worries; the Admiralty and the Foreign Office and the Treasury had heaped orders and advice upon him, but orders and responsibility were not nearly as harassing as the petty worries of finding a crew and dealing with dockyard authorities. He was perfectly at ease.
Barbara was having to hold on tightly, and now that she looked up at him she was obviously not quite as comfortable inside as she might be; she was filled with doubts if with nothing else. Hornblower felt both amusement and pride; it was pleasant to be newly at sea and yet not sick, and it was more pleasant still to be doing something better than Barbara, who was so good at everything. He was on the point of teasing her, of vaunting his own immunity, when common sense and his tenderness for his wife saved him from such an incredible blunder. She would hate him if he did anything of the sort — he could remember with enormous clarity how much he hated the whole world when he was being seasick. He did his best for her.
“You’re fortunate not to be sick, my dear,” he said. “This motion is lively, but then you always had a good stomach.”
She looked at him, with the wind whipping her tousled hair; she looked a trifle dubious, but Hornblower’s words had heartened her. He made a very considerable sacrifice for her, one she would never know about.
“I envy you, dear,” he said. “I’m feeling the gravest doubts about myself, as I always do at the beginning of a voyage. But you are your usual happy self.”
Surely no man could give a better proof of his love for his wife than that he should not only conceal his feeling of superiority, but that he should even for her sake pretend to be seasick when he was not. Barbara was all concern at once.
“I am sorry, dearest,” she said, her hand on his shoulder. “I hope so much you do not have to give way. It would be most inconvenient for you at this moment of taking up your command.”
The stratagem was working; with something important to think about other than the condition of her stomach Barbara was forgetting her own qualms.
“I hope I shall last out,” said Hornblower; he tried to grin a brave reluctant grin, and although he was no actor Barbara’s wits were sufficiently dulled not to see through him. Hornblower’s conscience pricked him when he saw that this stolid mock-heroism of his was making her fonder of him than ever. Her eyes were soft for him.
“Stand by to go about!” bellowed the captain of the lugger, and Hornblower looked up in surprise to see that they were close up under the stern of the Nonsuch. She had some canvas showing forward and her mizzen-topsail backed so as to set her across the wind a trifle and give the lugger a lee on her starboard side. Hornblower flung back his boat cloak and stood clear so that he could be seen from the quarter-deck of the Nonsuch; for Bush’s sake, if for no other reason, he did not want to come on board without due warning. Then he turned to Barbara.
“It’s time to say good-bye, dear,” he said.
Her face was without expression, like that of a marine under inspection.
“Good-bye, dearest!” she said. Her lips were cold, and she did not incline towards him to offer them, but stood stiffly upright. It was like kissing a marble statue. Then she melted suddenly. “I’ll cherish Richard, darling. Our child.”
Barbara could have said nothing to endear her more to Hornblower. He crushed her hands in his.
The lugger came up into the wind, her canvas volleying, and then she shot into the two-decker’s lee. Hornblower glanced up; there was a bos’un’s chair dangling ready to lower to the lugger.
“Belay that chair!” he yelled, and then to the captain, “Lay us alongside.”
Hornblower had no intention of being swung up to the deck in a bos’un’s chair; it was too undignified a way of taking up his new command to be swung aboard legs dangling. The lugger surged beside the big ship; the painted ports were level with his shoulder, and beneath him boiled the green water confined between the two vessels. This was a nervous moment. If he were to miss his footing and fall into the sea so that he would have to be hauled in wet and dripping it would be far more undignified than any entrance in a bos’un’s chair. He let fall his cloak, pulled his hat firmly on to his head, and hitched his sword round out of his way. Then he leaped across the yard-wide gap, scrambling upwards the moment fingers and toes made contact. It was only the first three feet which were difficult; after that the tumble-home of the Nonsuch‘s side made it easy. He was even able to pause to collect himself before making the final ascent to the entry-port and to step down to the deck with all the dignity to be expected of a Commodore.