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“What is the service, my lord?” asked the latter.

“Suppression of mutiny,” said St. Vincent grimly. “Damned bloody mutiny. It might be ‘94 over again. Did you ever know Chadwick — Lieutenant Augustine Chadwick?”

“Midshipman with me under Pellew, my lord.”

“Well, he’s — ah, here’s my damned coach at last. What about Lady Barbara?”

“I’ll take my own carriage back to Bond Street,” said Barbara, “and I’ll send it back for Horatio at the Admiralty. Here it comes now.”

The carriage, with Brown and the coachman on the box, drew up behind St. Vincent’s coach, and Brown sprang down.

“Very good, then. Come on, Hornblower. Your servant, ma’am, again.”

St. Vincent climbed in heavily, with Hornblower beside him, and the horses’ hoofs clashed on the cobbles as the heavy vehicle crawled forward. The pale sunlight flickered through the windows on St. Vincent’s craggy face as he sat stoop-shouldered on the leather seat; some urchins in the street caught sight of the gaily attired individuals in the coach and yelled ‘Hooray’, waving their tattered caps.

“Chadwick had Flame, eighteen-gun brig,” said St. Vincent. “The crew’s mutinied in the Bay of the Seine and are holding him and the other officers hostage. They turned a master’s mate and four loyal hands adrift in the gig with an ultimatum addressed to the Admiralty. The gig made Bembridge last night, and the papers have just reached me — here they are.”

St. Vincent shook in his gnarled hand the despatch and the enclosures which he had clasped since he received them in Westminster Abbey.

“What’s the ultimatum, my lord?”

“Amnesty — oblivion. And hang Chadwick. Otherwise they turn the brig over to the French.”

“The crazy fools!” said Hornblower.

He could remember Chadwick in the Indefatigable; old for a midshipman then, twenty years ago. He must be in his fifties now, and only a lieutenant. He had been a vile-tempered midshipman; after being passed over continually for promotion he must be a worse-tempered lieutenant. He could make a little vessel like the Flame, in which probably he was the only commissioned officer, a perfect hell if he wanted to. That might be the basis of the mutiny. After the terrible lessons of Spithead and the Nore, after Pigott had been murdered in the Hermione, some of the worst characteristics of the naval service had been eliminated. It was still a hard, cruel life, but not one to drive men into the suicidal madness of mutiny unless there were some special circumstances involved. A captain both cruel and unjust, a determined and intelligent leader among the men — that combination might make a mutiny. But whatever the cause, mutiny must be suppressed instantly, visited with extreme punishment. Smallpox or the plague were no more infectious and no more fatal than mutiny in a fighting service. Allow one mutineer to escape punishment, and he would be remembered by every next man with a grievance, and his example followed.

And England was at the very climax of her struggle with the French despotism. Five hundred ships of war at sea — two hundred of them ships of the line — were striving to keep the seas clear of enemies. A hundred thousand men under Wellington were bursting over the Pyrenees into southern France. And all the motley armies of eastern Europe, Russians and Prussians, Austrians and Swedes, Croats and Hungarians and Dutch, were being clothed and fed and armed by England’s exertions. It seemed as if England could not put forth one single further effort in the struggle; even as if she must falter and break down under the dreadful strain. Bonaparte was fighting for his life, with all the cunning and ferocity one might expect of him. A few more months of constancy, a few more months of fierce exertion, might bring him crashing down and restore peace to a mad world; a moment’s wavering, a breath of doubt, and tyranny might be clamped upon mankind for another generation, for uncounted generations to come.

The coach was wheeling into the Admiralty yard, and two wooden-legged naval pensioners were stumping out to open the doors. St. Vincent climbed out, and he and Hornblower, in their brilliant crimson and white silk, walked through to the First Lord’s room.

“There’s their ultimatum,” said St. Vincent, throwing a paper upon the desk.

Written in a poor hand, was Hornblower’s first mental note — not the work of some bankrupt tradesman or lawyer’s clerk caught by the pressgang.

On board H.M.S. Flame off Havre

7th October 1813

We are all loyal hearts and true here, but Lieutenant Augustine Chadwick has flogged us and starved us, and has turned up all hands twice a watch for a month. Yesterday he said that today he would flog every third man of us and the rest of us as soon as the others was healed. So we have him under lock and key in his cabin, and there’s a whip rove at the fore yardarm waiting for him for he ought to be strung up after what he did to the boy James Jones, he killed him and we think he said in his report that he died of fever. We want their Lordships at the Admiralty to promise us to try him for his crimes and give us new officers and let bygones be bygones. We want to fight on for England’s liberties for we are loyal hearts and true like we said but France is under our lee and we are all in this together and we are not going to be hanged as mutineers and if you try to take this vessel we shall run him up to the yardarm and go in to the French. We are all signing this.

Humbly and respectfully yours,

All round the margin of the letter were the signatures, seven of them, and several score of crosses, with a note against each cross — ‘Henry Wilson, his mark’; ‘William Owen, his mark’, and so on; they indicated the usual proportion of literates and illiterates in an average ship’s company. Hornblower looked up at St. Vincent when he finished examining the letter.

“Mutinous dogs,” said St. Vincent.

Maybe they were, thought Hornblower. But they had a right to be, he also thought. He could imagine perfectly well the sort of treatment to which they had been subjected, the unending wanton cruelty added to the normal hardship of life in a ship on blockading service; miseries which only death or mutiny could bring to an end — no other way out at all.

Faced with the certainty of a flogging in the immediate future, they had risen in mutiny, and he could not blame them. He had seen enough backs cut to ribbons; he knew that he himself would do anything, literally anything, to avoid such torture for himself if he were faced with the prospect of it. His flesh crept as he made himself seriously consider how he would feel if he knew he were to be flogged next week. The men had moral right on their side; it was not a matter of justice, but one of expediency, that they should be punished for their justifiable crime. The national existence of the country depended greatly on seizing the mutineers, hanging the ringleaders, flogging the rest; cauterising before the disease could spread farther this new plague spot which had appeared in England’s right arm. They must be hanged, morally innocent or not — it was a part of war, like the killing of Frenchmen who were possibly admirable husbands and fathers. But it would be as well not to let St. Vincent guess at his sentiments — the First Lord obviously hated mutineers just as mutineers, without troubling to think more deeply about their case.

“What orders do you have for me, my lord?” asked Hornblower.

“I’ll give you carte blanche,” replied St. Vincent. “A free hand. Bring Flame back safe and sound, and the mutineers along with her, and you can set about it any way you choose.”

“You will give me full powers — to negotiate, for instance, my lord?”

“I didn’t mean that, damn it,” replied St. Vincent. “I meant you could have any force you asked for. I could spare you three ships of the line, if you want them. A couple of frigates. Bomb-vessels. There’s even a rocket-vessel if you think you could use it — this fellow Congreve wants to see his rockets in action again.”