Books > Old Books > Mr Midshipman Hornblower (1950)


Page 226

CHAPTER TEN - THE DUCHESS AND THE DEVIL

that her seasickness was forgotten. The duchess put a protective arm round her and tried to comfort her.
`Your Grace had better look to your baggage,' said Hornblower. `No doubt you'll be leaving us shortly for other quarters with the Dons. I hope you will be more comfortable.'
He was trying desperately hard to speak in a matter-of-fact way, as if nothing out of the ordinary were happening, as if he were not soon to be a prisoner of the Spaniards; but the duchess saw the working of the usually firm mouth, and marked how the hands were tight clenched.
`How can I tell you how sorry I am about this?' asked the duchess, her voice soft with pity.
`That makes it the harder for me to bear,' said Hornblower, and he even forced a smile.
The Spanish frigate was just rounding-to, a cable's length to windward.
`Please, sir,' said Hunter.
'Well?'
`We can fight, sir. You give the word. Cold shot to drop in the boats when they try to board. We could beat 'em off once, perhaps.'
Hornblower's tortured misery nearly made him snap out `Don't be a fool', but he checked himself. He contented himself with pointing to the frigate. Twenty guns were glaring at them at far less than point-blank range. The very boat the frigate was hoisting out would be manned by at least twice as many men as Le Reve carried - she was no bigger than many a pleasure yacht. It was not odds of ten to one, or a hundred to one, but odds of ten thousand to one.
`I understand, sir,' said Hunter.
Now the Spanish frigate's boat was in the water, about to shove off.
`A private word with you, please, Mr Hornblower,' said the duchess suddenly.
Hunter and Winyatt heard what she said, and withdrew out of earshot.

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