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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Forester Cecil Scott
 

«Hornblower and the Crisis», Cecil Forester

An Unfinished Novel(Published in the US as: “Hornblower during the Crisis”)

Chapter One

Hornblower was expecting the knock on the door, because he had seen through his cabin window enough to guess what was happening outside.

“Waterhoy coming alongside, sir,” reported Bush, hat in hand.

“Very well, Mr. Bush.” Hornblower was disturbed in spirit and, irritated, had no intention of smoothing Bush’s path for him.

“The new captain’s on board, sir.” Bush was perfectly well aware of Hornblower’s mood yet was not ingenious enough to cope with it.

“Very well, Mr. Bush.”

But that was simple cruelty, the deliberate teasing of a nearly dumb animal; Hornblower realized that such behaviour really gave him no pleasure and only occasioned embarrassment to Bush. He relented to the extent of introducing a lighter touch into the conversation.

“So now you have a few minutes to spare for me, Mr. Bush?” he said. “It’s a change after your preoccupation of the last two days.”

That was neither fair nor kind, and Bush showed his feelings in his face.

“I’ve had my duties to do, sir,” he mumbled.

“Getting Hotspur into apple pie order ready for her new captain.”

“Yyes, sir.”

“Doesn’t matter about me, of course. I’m only a back number now.”

“Sir—”

Even though he was not in a smiling mood Hornblower could not help smiling at the misery of Bush’s expression.

“I’m glad to see you’re only human, Mr. Bush, after all. Sometimes I’ve doubted it. There couldn’t be a more perfect First Lieutenant.”

Bush needed two or three seconds in which to digest this unexpected compliment.

“That’s very good of you, sir. Very kind indeed. But it’s been all your doing.”

In a moment they would slide down the slippery slopes of sentiment, which would be unbearable.

“Time for me to appear on deck,” said Hornblower. “We’d better say goodbye, Mr. Bush. The best of luck under your new captain.”

He went so far towards yielding to the mood of the moment as to hold out his hand, which Bush took. Luckily Bush’s emotions prevented him from saying more than just “Goodbye, sir,” and Hornblower hurried out through the cabin door with Bush at his heels.

There was instantly plenty of distraction as the waterhoy was laid alongside the Hotspur; the side of the hoy was covered from end to end with old sails in rolls and with substantial fendoffs of sandbags, yet it was a ticklish business, even in the sheltered waters of this little bay, to pass lines between the two ships and draw them together. A gangplank came clattering out from the hoy to bridge the gap between the two decks, and a burly man in full unicorn made the precarious crossing. He was very tall—two or three inches over six feet and heavily built; a man of middle age or more, to judge by the shock of grey hair revealed when he raised his hat. The boatswain’s mates pealed loudly on their calls; the two ship’s drummers beat a ragged ruffle.

“Welcome aboard, sir,” said Hornblower.

The new captain pulled a paper from his breast pocket, opened it, and began to read. A shout from Bush bared every head so that the function would take place with due solemnity.

“Orders given by us, William Cornwallis, ViceAdmiral of the Red, Knight of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Commanding His Majesty’s Ships and Vessels of the Channel Fleet, to James Percival Meadows, Esquire—”

“D’ye think we have all day?” This was a new stentorian voice from the deck of the hoy. “Stand by to take the hoses, there! Mr. Lieutenant, let’s have some hands for the pumps.”

The voice came, appropriately enough, from the barrel-shaped captain of the hoy. Bush signalled frantically for him to stay quiet until this vital ceremonial was completed.

“Time enough for that tomfoolery when the water’s all aboard. The wind’ll shift within the hour,” roared the barrelshaped captain quite unabashed. Captain Meadows scowled and hesitated, but for all his vast stature he could do nothing to silence the captain of the hoy. He roared through the rest of his orders at a pace nearer a gallop than a canter, and folded them up with evident relief now that he was legally captain of HMS Hotspur.

“On hats,” bellowed Bush.

“Sir, I relieve you,” said Meadows to Hornblower.

“I much regret the bad manners displayed in the hoy, sir,” said Hornblower to Meadows.

“Now let’s have some sturdy hands,” said the barrel-shaped captain to no one in particular, and Meadows shrugged his vast shoulders with resignation.

“Mr. Bush, my first lieutenant—I mean your first lieutenant, sir,” said Hornblower, hastily effecting the introduction.

“Carry on, Mr. Bush,” said Meadows, and Bush plunged instantly into the business of transferring the fresh water from the hoy.

“Who’s that fellow, sir?” asked Hornblower with a jerk of his thumb at the captain of the hoy.

“He’s been my cross for the last two days,” answered Meadows. Dirty words unnecessary to reproduce interlarded every sentence he uttered. “He’s not only captain but he’s thirtyseven sixtyfourths owner. Under Navy Office contract—can’t press him, can’t press his men, as they all have protections. Says what he likes, does what he likes, and I’d give my prize money for the next five years to have him at the gratings for ten minutes.”


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