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“It seems as if I shall have to heave-to, sir.” Freeman had spoken in a moderate tone at first, a trifle embarrassed. It was a difficult position for Freeman; by the law and custom of the sea he was captain of this ship and Hornblower, although so far superior in rank, was no more than a passenger. Only an admiral could take command out of the hands of the officer appointed for that purpose, without a long and difficult process; a captain, even one who held Commodore’s rank as did Hornblower, could not do so. Legally, and under the rulings of the Articles of War, Hornblower could only direct the Porta Coeli‘s operations; Freeman was solely responsible for the manner in which Hornblower’s orders were carried out. Legally it was entirely for Freeman to decide whether to heave-to or not; but no mere lieutenant commanding an eighteen-gun brig could happily disregard the wishes of a Commodore on board, especially when the Commodore happened to be Hornblower, with his reputation of impatience of delay and eagerness to set about the tasks before him — no lieutenant with a thought for his own future could do so, at any rate. Hornblower grinned to himself through his nausea at Freeman’s dilemma.

“Heave-to if you wish, Mr. Freeman,” he bellowed back, and as soon as he had said the words Freeman was shouting his orders through his speaking-trumpet.

“Heave-to! Get the foretops’l in! Set the maint’mast stays’l. Quartermaster, bring her to.”

“Bring her to, sir.”

The furling of the foretopsail eased her, and the staysail steadied her, and then she came to the wind. Until now she had fought against it; now she yielded to it, like a woman giving way at last to an importunate lover. She rose to an even keel, turning her starboard bow to the choppy seas, rising and falling to them with something of rhythm instead of her previous unpredictable plunges over the quartering waves. The starboard mainshrouds gave something of a lee to Hornblower where he stood against the starboard bulwark, so that even the force of the wind seemed to be a little moderated.


Everything was much more comfortable, no doubt, much safer. There was no danger now of the Porta Coeli losing spars or canvas or working her seams considerably open. But it did not bring her any nearer to the Flame and her mutinous crew; on the contrary, it meant that every moment she was drifting farther away, and to leeward. To leeward! Hornblower’s mind, like that of every sailor, was obsessed with the importance of keeping to windward of one’s destination. He grudged bitterly every yard of leeway made, far more bitterly than any miser grudged paying out his pieces of gold. Here in the Channel in the late autumn, where westerly gales were to be expected daily, any drift to the eastward might have to be bought back at compound interest. Every hour of leeway would have to be regained when the wind moderated, by two or three hours of beating back to windward, unless the wind should come easterly, which one could not expect.

And every hour might count; no one could guess what might be the next mad action of the desperate men on board Flame. At any moment they might be led by panic to hand themselves over to the French; or the ringleaders might abandon the vessel and seek refuge in France, never to be regained for the hangman’s rope. And at any moment the news might begin to seep through the Navy that a king’s ship had successfully thrown off the bonds of discipline, that downtrodden seamen were negotiating, as one power with another, with the Lords of the Admiralty. Hornblower could guess only too well what might be the effect of that news. The sooner Flame was dealt with in exemplary fashion the better; but he was still without any idea as to how to deal with her. This present gale would hardly discommode her — she would be able to ride it out in the lee of the Normandy peninsula. A vessel of her tonnage could venture anywhere in the Bay of the Seine; on the one hand she could run for Le Havre, on the other to Caen river.

The batteries of the Cotentin coast would protect her; the chasse-marées and the Seine gunboats would be ready to come to her aid. Both at Cherbourg and at Le Havre there were French frigates and ships of the line, half manned and unready for sea, but always able at a pinch to push out a few miles from port and cover the escape of the Flame. At the approach of superior force she would certainly run; she might stand and fight an equal, such as this Porta Coeli, but Hornblower found himself hesitating at the prospect of meeting on equal terms a British ship manned by English sailors filled with the courage of despair. Victory would be dearly bought — what a triumphant clamour Bonaparte would raise through Europe at the news of a battle between two British ships! There would be many dead — what would be the effect on the Navy at the news of British sailors killing each other? What would be the results in Parliament? And the chances were certainly large that the two brigs would cripple each other so badly as to fall easy victims to the chasse-marées and gunboats. And worse than that, there was the chance of defeat. Equal ships, equal crews; a chance as arbitrary as the spin of a coin might decide the action. No, only as a last resort, perhaps not even then, would he fight a simple action against the Flame. But what the devil was he to do?

Hornblower shook himself into consciousness of the world about him, backing out of the blind alley of thought in which he had found himself. The wind was still shrieking round him, but it was no longer an avalanche of darkness. Before his eyes the lean rectangle of the reefed maintopsail was distinctly visible against the sky. There was a faint grey light about him; the white-flecked waves over which the brig was uneasily rising were plain to his sight. Morning was coming. Here he lay, hove-to in mid-Channel, out of sight of land. And it was still less than twenty-four hours since he had sat in silks amid the Knights of the Bath in Westminster Abbey, and much less than twenty-four hours since Barbara had — that was another line of thought from which he had hastily to shake himself free. It was raining again, the chill drops blowing into his face. He was cold through and through; as he moved he felt Barbara’s scarf about his neck sopping wet with the water that had run down from his face. Freeman was beside him; the day-old beard that sprouted on Freeman’s cheeks was an additional convincing touch in his gipsy appearance.

“The glass stays low, sir,” said Freeman. “No sign of the weather moderating.”

“I can see none myself,” said Hornblower.

There was scanty material for conversation, even if Hornblower had wanted to enter into conversation with his subordinate. The grey sky and the grey sea, the shrieking wind, the chill that enveloped them, the pessimistic gloom which clouded Hornblower’s thoughts, all these helped Hornblower to maintain the deliberate taciturnity which he had so long cultivated.

“Have me called at the first sign of a change, Mr. Freeman,” he said.

He walked over to the hatchway; it was only with an effort that he could set one foot before the other, and he could hardly bend at all to get his hands on the hatch coaming as he descended. His joints groaned as he crept under the threatening deck-beams into his cabin. He was utterly numb with cold and fatigue and sea-sickness. He was just conscious, resentfully, that he must not fall, as he longed to do, fully clothed upon his cot — not for fear of rheumatism, but because there might be no chance for days of drying the cot’s bedding if once he made it wet. And then here came Brown, materialising suddenly at his side — he must have been alert in the wardroom pantry on the watch for him.

“Let me take your coat, sir,” said Brown. “You’re cold, sir. I’ll untie that scarf. Those buttons, sir. Sit down now and I’ll be able to get those boots off, sir.”