seasickness was spoken of with awe even by the older hands.
He looked a little stronger, Bolitho thought. It was ironic, for whereas he himself was beset with problems both personal and tactical, he had never felt in better health. The ship, the constant comings and goings of faces which were already familiar, were ready reminders of his own days as a frigate captain.
There was a kind of hardness to his body, and a swiftness of thought which could soon be lost in a ponderous ship of the line.
“I must make contact with Rapid today, Browne. I intend to stand her closer inshore, unless the master is wrong about the change of wind.”
Browne watched him thoughtfully. Having to think again was bringing the colour back to his face. So how did Bolitho manage it? he wondered. Boarding the other ships, discussing details of local trade and coastal craft with Neale, he never appeared to tire.
He was driving himself like this to hold his other thoughts at bay. At least he had learned that much about Bolitho.
Browne looked aloft and winced as he saw the tiny figure perched on the crosstrees high above the deck.
“Sail on th’ starboard quarter!”
Neale came hurrying across the deck, and as Bolitho gave him a curt nod, shouted, “All hands, Mr Pickthorn! We shall wear ship at once and beat to wind’rd!”
Before his first lieutenant had even time to snatch up his speaking trumpet, or the boatswain’s mates had run below with their calls trilling to rouse the hands, Neale was already calculat-ing and scheming, even though he could not yet see the newcomer.
Bolitho watched the seamen and marines flooding up through the hatches and along both gangways, to be stemmed and mustered into their stations by petty officers and master’s mates.
Neale said, “The light is better, sir. In a moment or so—”
“Man the braces there! Stand by to wear ship!”
“Put up the helm!”
With yards and canvas banging in confusion and blocks shrieking like live things as the cordage raced through the sheaves, Styx leaned heavily towards the sea, spray climbing the gangways and pattering across the straining seamen at the braces in pellets.
“Full an’ bye, sir! Sou’-west by west!”
Neale moved a pace this way and that, watching as his command came under control again, her lee gunports almost awash.
“Aloft with you, Mr Kilburne, and take a glass.” To the quarterdeck at large he said, “If she’s a Frenchie, we’ll dish her up before she stands inshore.”
Browne murmured, “Such confidence.”
Bolitho sensed, rather than felt, Allday at his side, and held up his arms so that the burly coxswain could clip the sword to his belt.
Allday looked suddenly older, although he and Bolitho were of the same age. The lower deck was insensitive when it came to the smallest comfort.
Even as an admiral’s personal coxswain, life was not that easy.
Allday would be the first to deny it, just as he would be angry and hurt if Bolitho suggested he took himself to Falmouth to enjoy the comfort and security which were his right.
Allday saw his gaze and gave his lazy grin. “I can still give some o’ these mothers’ boys a run for their money, sir!”
Bolitho nodded slowly. When it came, it would be on a day like this. Like all the others when Allday had fetched the old sword and they had shared some stupid joke together.
Perhaps it was because of Neale, or the fact he was made to be an onlooker.
He lifted his eyes to the mizzen truck where his flag stood out in the wind like painted metal.
Then he shook himself angrily. If Beauchamp had appointed another junior admiral for this work he would have been equally unsettled.
Allday moved away, satisfied with what he had seen.
Several telescopes rose like swivels, and Bolitho waited until Midshipman Kilburne’s voice floated thinly from the masthead.
“Deck, sir! She’s British!”
A small pause while he endeavoured to cling to his precari-ous perch and