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Ramage led the way into the bay and turned the Calypso into the wind before anchoring as close as he could to the beach where he had landed the Le Tigre's ship's company. The Intrepid followed, rounded up and dropped an anchor a cable to the northward while the Phoenix came in and anchored the same distance to the south.

Ramage had been watching the shore with his telescope. There was no sign of anyone on the beach or walking about the land at the back of it. There was no sign that a single man had ever landed.

"You were right," Southwick said. "They didn't stay here. Why Captain Arbuthnot insisted we search here first I don't know; it was obvious they would move on to the village."

"Well, we'll put a cutter ashore with a dozen Marines, just to be able to reassure Arbuthnot. Mr Aitken, hoist out one of the cutters if you please."

Within fifteen minutes the cutter was pulling for the shore carrying a dozen Marines and Lieutenant Rennick, with Kenton in command of the boat. Ramage's orders to Rennick were brief: he was to follow any tracks from the beach, and when he was absolutely sure of the direction in which the French had gone, he was Jo return to the ship and report.

It took less than two hours for Rennick to return and report that the French had gone off towards the village: Rennick had followed their tracks until he had stood on a hill a mile from the village and looking down on it.

"I didn't feel justified in going after so many Frenchmen with only a dozen Marines," he said matter-of-factly, "but they made for the village all right: they skirted the side of a mountain on their left and they kept to the right, following the flatter land along the edge of the sea."

Ramage said: "Go over to the Intrepid and report to Captain Arbuthnot, and tell him that I propose going up to the village now."

Rennick was back from the Intrepid within half an hour with instructions for Ramage: he was to proceed north to the village and land and investigate.

Rennick's manner showed that he had not enjoyed his meeting with Arbuthnot. "He asked so many questions I began to doubt whether or not I had been ashore," he told Ramage. "What sort of tracks, how could I be sure they were made by the French - he even suggested they might be goat tracks!"

Southwick went to the fo'c'sle and soon the men were singing as they turned the capstan and brought the anchor cable home. Then the reports came quickly: the cable was at long stay, short stay, up and down - when the cable led vertically into the sea from the stem - and finally aweigh, when the anchor was off the bottom.

Then, at a signal from Southwick, Aitken gave the orders to let foil the fore and maintopsails and the topmen swarmed out along the yards to cast off the gaskets. The sails dropped like huge curtains and as soon as the men were back in the top others hauled on the halyards to hoist the yards so that the sails could be trimmed.

Both the Intrepid and the Phoenix were also weighing, and Ramage took the Calypso out from between them to head north. It took less than half an hour to reach the village. Once again the Calypso anchored and this time Ramage ordered all the boom boats to be hoisted out and the quarter boats lowered.

"I hope you have your Marines standing by," he said to Rennick, and to Aitken he said: "Your three parties of seamen are ready?"

"Fallen in on the gangway with Kenton, Martin and Orsini, sir."

"Right, get them into the boats as soon as possible."

Within ten minutes the two cutters, named and painted the red and the green to distinguish them, the gig and the jolly-boat were rowing for the port: the two parties of Marines and one of seamen under Kenton were divided up in the two cutters, Martin was in the gig with his seamen, and Orsini was in the jolly-boat with his dozen men.

In the meantime Ramage and Aitken had been examining the port with their telescope. Finally Ramage snapped his shut and said crossly: "There seem to be fewer people about than one would expect on a normal day."

"Can't blame them, sir," Aitken said. "They saw two 74s and a frigate approaching, and they know it can only mean trouble for them."

"Damn this waiting," Ramage grumbled. "It's all I seem to be doing today."

"Better than traipsing across dusty hills being stung by insects," Southwick said cheerfully. "And in that village it'll be the stink of rotting cabbage, sewage and pigs."

"Even that would be a change from the smell of our bilgewater," Ramage said sourly. "One day I'll invent a way of getting the pump to suck out those last few inches of water."

"The ship wouldn't be the same without that stink," Aitken commented. "Makes it seem like home!"

"It doesn't say much for the way you live in Scotland!" Ramage commented.

He pulled out the tube of his telescope and adjusted it to the mark for the right focus. Then he looked at the boats as they made their way to the shore. The Intrepid and Phoenix were just coming into the bay, Ramage was pleased to see: Arbuthnot could not complain that he had been kept waiting.

Waiting - he was the one who was having to wait. Ramage cursed that he had not gone with one of the boats, but leading a search party was not the job for a post-captain commanding a frigate: let junior lieutenants get blistered heels!

He began pacing up and down the quarterdeck, impatience fighting with the knowledge that he should not show it. This was the part of command that he hated: it emphasized just how alone he had to be; he could talk with his officers, but ultimately he had to stay remote, never indulging in the sort of small talk which passed the hours at a time like this.

He looked again with the telescope. The boats were now lying at the quay, and he could just catch sight of the Marines' jackets as they moved about the streets. Well, they were not being attacked by an angry crowd of Frenchmen armed with sticks and staves. Where the devil had the French gone? Further north? That seemed unlikely because there were no more villages. Well, he would have to wait for one of the boats to return.

Ten paces aft, turn and ten paces forward again. The sun was bright but compared with what he was used to in the West Indies, there was no heat in it: there was no need for an awning, and the pitch in the deck seams was not soft. The wind was a little more than a gentle breeze, and there were few clouds. It was, Ramage thought, a typical spring day in the Mediterranean, although one always had to bear in mind that the weather could be treacherous; that a vicious gale could spring up in less than twelve hours, or a scirocco could set in and blow hard for three days, bringing a depressing effect which seemed uncomfortably humid but which seared the leaves of shrubs and bushes.

So, he thought to himself as he turned again, make the best of today. Finally he stopped by the quarterdeck rail and took up his telescope for yet another search of the shore.

He was startled to see the jolly-boat being rowed out fast. There were only the men at the oars in the boat. In fact they looked as though they were racing another boat, and he could see Paolo standing up in the sternsheets, apparently urging the men on.

What on earth was happening? Bad news? But what bad news could there be, and what urgency? An emergency? But what emergency? - there was no sign of shooting round the quay; in fact he could clearly see boat-minders sitting in the cutters. He shrugged: once again the answer was to wait and see.

Finally the jolly-boat came alongside and Orsini scrambled up the ship's side. By then Ramage was waiting for him at the entryport and Paolo, after a hasty salute, said breathlessly: "They've gone, sir!"

"Gone? Gone where?"

"Gone completely, sir: they've escaped from the island. The local people tell me that a French frigate arrived two days ago - the day after we landed the prisoners - and took them all off."

Ramage swore. Three frigates in the area within such a short time.

"In which direction did the frigate go?"

"To the north, sir."

"Hmm, going northabout to Toulon, I suppose."

"With all those men on board, she'd want to get into a French port fairly quickly."

Paolo was right about that: she would have many more than double her normal complement and may well have run short of water and provisions. Ramage suddenly wanted to laugh: the errant French frigate had done Arbuthnot and Slade out of their head money!

"Who did you speak to ashore?"

"At first fishermen on the quay, but when I heard what they had to say, I made them take me to the mayor. He confirmed it. He's a fisherman too and his boat was commandeered to help take out the French, so he saw the name of the frigate: the Marie." "There's no doubt that all the French were taken off?"

"None at all, sir: the mayor had counted them up from the number of boats that were used. His figure is within a dozen or so of ours."

Ramage thought for a moment or two. Martin, Kenton and Rennick could wait: right now he had to go over and report to Arbuthnot.

"Wait here: I want you to take me over to the Intrepid." Ramage hurried down to his cabin to collect his sword and straighten up his stock. He came back on deck and sent for Aitken telling him where he was going and why.

Then he' climbed down the ship's side after Orsini and settled down in the sternsheets. He felt very cheerful at the news he was going to give Arbuthnot, not because he gave a damn whether the French were still on the island or not but because he felt a spiteful delight that there was no head money. He found that Admiral Rudd's decision over the head money was what really rankled; it was a petty piece of twisting the King's Regulations and Admiralty Instructions so that the Calypso's men were cheated after a particularly hard-fought battle against Le Jason. Ten minutes later Ramage was sitting opposite Arbuthnot in his cabin. The senior captain had pedantically stopped Ramage making his report on the quarterdeck; instead he had insisted that Ramage follow him down to his cabin, where he had carefully seated himself at a desk, waving Ramage to a chair opposite.

"Well, Ramage, what have you to report?" Arbuthnot fiddled with his stock, as though it had suddenly tightened. "I see that all but one of your boats are still at the quay."

"The French have gone," Ramage said bluntly. "All of them. They have left the island."

"Don't be absurd!" Arbuthnot said angrily. "You are just trying to dodge having to search."

Ramage shook his head wearily: it was disheartening when someone behaved exactly as expected, and so far Arbuthnot was conforming to the patterns with depressing precision.

"No, sir: they were taken off two days ago by a French frigate, the Marie. They were counted by the mayor of Capraia and his total came to within a dozen of ours."

"But that's three French frigates!" Arbuthnot protested feebly.

"And two ships of the line," Ramage reminded him, trying to keep the malice out of his voice.

"But how did this Marie know about the prisoners?"

"I'm sure she didn't sir. She may have had a rendezvous with one or both of the other two frigates, and when she didn't find them here she may have sent a boat on shore to get news and found the two crews there."

Clearly Arbuthnot was now puzzled what to do next: should he give chase or return to Naples? That was obviously a question to which for the moment he had no answer.

"When did you say this frigate arrived?"

"Two days ago. The day after I landed the prisoners."

"And which way did she go?"

"To the north. The wind would have been from the southwest."

"To the north, eh? Then she could have rounded Capraia and made for Toulon."

"She could have done," Ramage agreed. "Especially if she was short of water or provisions."

"Two days on her way to Toulon . . . no, we'd never stand a chance of catching her."

Ramage said nothing: it was Arbuthnot's decision, and with this kind of man if he was blamed by the Admiral he would mention that Ramage had agreed with him, even if all Ramage had done was rub his nose. No, Ramage decided, if Arbuthnot wanted any second opinion, let him get it from Slade, in the Phoenix: Slade was second-in-command of the little squadron, and was a devil of a sight higher up the Post List than Ramage.

"You can return to your ship," Arbuthnot said. "I will talk to you later."

Yes, Ramage thought, you'll give me orders after you have had time to talk it over with Slade. You are scared of Admiral Rudd: responsibility does not sit easily on your shoulders.

As soon as Ramage was back on board the Calypso he sent Orsini on shore with instructions for Kenton, Martin and Rennick: they were to return with their men at once.

The signal for Ramage to return to the Intrepid was not made for two hours, during which time Orsini reported that Captain Slade had visited the Intrepid and returned to the Phoenix. Arbuthnot, Ramage thought to himself, has got his second opinion. It was ironic that a man who dodged responsibility would get promotion to admiral - providing he lived long enough - simply because of seniority. Ramage did not know Arbuthnot's number on the Post List, but (like Ramage himself) he was advancing up it as those captains above him died off or were killed and new ones appeared below him, to help push him up the List.

That was the fault of promotion in the Navy: once one had made the final step - through influence or merit, because they were the only two things that could do it - of being made post (which was a complicated way of saying that you had been given command of a ship that had to be commanded by a post-captain) then becoming a admiral was simply a matter of staying alive and accumulating seniority: promotion to rear-admiral, the first rung on the nine steps of admiral, came when you reached the top of the list of post-captains and one of the rear-admirals died. Then you survived as a (ear-admiral until you reached the top of the list and you became a vice-admiral when one of them died and made a vacancy. And having got thus far, you hoped to stay alive so that you became full admiral by the same process. Nor did one have to be serving at sea because promotion was automatic: an admiral, be he rear, vice or full admiral, could be retired and drawing a pension for longer than he had served at sea. Indeed, there was one notorious case of an admiral ninety-nine years old who had been retired for forty-nine years after serving at sea only forty years, when his highest rank had been post-captain. Forty-nine years an admiral and no

never commanded a fleet; indeed, had never commanded more than a 74.

Arbuthnot would like that, Ramage thought sourly; he would not mind that the only people that called him admiral were the domestics and the people in whichever village he chose for retirement. He wondered for a minute what sort of man Captain Slade was: did he like being a second opinion? Perhaps he liked the responsibility. Perhaps he did not.

Again Arbuthnot went through the ritual of taking Ramage down to his cabin and seating him in the chair opposite the desk.

Arbuthnot clasped his hands together and composed his face into what he clearly thought was a stern and confident look.

"I have given the situation my attention," he told Ramage, "and I have come to the conclusion that it would be a pointless waste of time and quite beyond the scope of my orders to search for this frigate. By now it is probably halfway to Toulon."

Ramage was clearly expected to make some sort of comment.

"Very well, sir," he said.

"I could of course send you in chase," Arbuthnot said. "What do you think about that?"

Ramage decided that two could play at this game. "If you think there is any chance of me catching her, sir, I would be happy to try."

It was obvious that it was an idea that Arbuthnot had already discussed with Slade, and it was equally obvious what their conclusion had been.

"You think you might have a chance?" Arbuthnot asked, obviously startled by Ramage's reply. Ramage shrugged his shoulders. "One can but try, sir."

Arbuthnot seemed to decide that this sort of sparring could go on all afternoon; that he was not going to trap Ramage into saying something that he could relate to Admiral Rudd as confirming whatever decision he had made.

"You agree with me that a two-day start is an advantage we could never hope to overcome."

Again Ramage shrugged. "It's impossible to say, sir, because we don't know for sure that she is making direct for Toulon. She might have a rendezvous with another ship somewhere so that she could unload some of the survivors on board. She may be becalmed Who knows?"

Now it was Arbuthnot's turn to shrug his shoulders. "I consider that most unlikely, and so does Captain Slade."

"In that case, sir," Ramage said, "what are my orders?"

Arbuthnot again composed his face. "I intend taking the squadron back to Naples and reporting to Admiral Rudd," he said. "He will not be very pleased at the idea of losing so many prisoners."

And you and Slade are annoyed at losing so much head money. Ramage thought; how blatant can you be?

Down in the wardroom Martin was playing his flute and the red-haired Kenton was sitting in the doorway of his tiny cabin listening to him. Although they were physically very different types, both had family links with the Navy. Martin, known to the other lieutenants as "Blower" because of his flute playing, was the son of the master shipwright at Chatham Dockyard while Kenton. heavily freckled and with his face continually peeling from sunburn, was the son of a half-pay captain.

When Martin paused, Kenton said: "You know, Blower, we were damned unlucky that French frigate just happened to come along and rescue those survivors."

"I don't know, I wasn't looking forward to climbing over the island looking for them."

"No, but we lost a lot of head money."

"No, we didn't," Martin contradicted. "I heard the captain telling Southwick that the Admiral said all the head money would go to the Phoenix and the Intrepid because technically they would have captured the men."

"Why, that's monstrous!" Kenton exclaimed.

"All admirals are monstrous," Martin said lazily. "With the exception of Lord Nelson, and that was why he was killed. He was the only man who wasn't a monster ever to be made an admiral."

At that moment Hill came into the wardroom. "Come on Blower, start playing that thing."

"I've been playing for an hour. I was just telling our friend here that we didn't lose any head money over the prisoners."

"No," said Hill, "we had already been cheated out of it by the Admiral, judging from what I heard Mr Ramage tell old South wick. So our French friends have helped spread a little justice round: we get cheated out of head money, and then the Intrepid and the Phoenix get cheated out of it by the French frigate. No head money for anyone."

"Well, we earned it," Kenton grumbled.

"We certainly did, but unless we had carried all of the prisoners back for the Admiral to count, we ran the risk of losing it. You must get out of the habit of thinking there is any justice in this world."

Kenton acknowledged Hill's remark with a dismissive gesture that implied he was annoyed at being thought so naive. "We don't need the money, at least I don't," he said airily. "Thanks to prize money I shan't be reduced to shining boots when I'm retired on half-pay. Nor will Martin. You joined too late, George. Still, if you fall on hard times in the future I'll employ you as my valet. Would you make a good valet, George?"

"That depends on the state of your wardrobe. If you expect me for ever to be stitching stocks and darning stockings, then the answer is no. I shall only valet for the gentry - the rich gentry."

"By the way," asked Martin, putting his flute back in its case, "has anyone heard if we are going back to Naples?"

Hill shook his head. "I should think so, but I haven't heard anyone mention it. Why? Do you fancy a Neapolitan romance?"

"Orsini tells me the Neapolitan women are very beautiful," Martin said seriously, "but there's some difficulty with what I think Orsini said were cicisbeos." "You mean husbands?" asked Hill.

"No, as far as I can make out, a cicisbeo is a lady's recognized follower: the husband knows all about it and agrees: the cicisbeo acts as a combined escort and chaperone."

"If I was the husband I wouldn't agree to that," Kenton said.

"No, he escorts the lady to the opera or takes her for rides in a carriage: it is all very honourable."

"It wouldn't be if I was a cicisbeo" Kenton said firmly. "The husband would be a cuckold within the hour."

Hill said: "There's probably an old Neapolitan tradition among husbands that cicisbeos who overstep the mark get their throats cut within the hour, too!"

Martin snapped the catch of the flute case and said: "It all sounds too easy, so there's bound to be a snag. I can't see Neapolitan husbands, of all men on earth, making their wives freely available. On the contrary, I would say that of all places on earth Naples is where the wife's honour - or perhaps I mean the husband's honour - is the most closely guarded."

"I'll bear that in mind when I go on shore," Hill said lightly. "No married women!"

"The unmarried women will be guarded by mothers who can make a wild tiger look tame, you can be sure of that," Kenton said.

"You two aren't making Naples sound a very attractive place," Hill grumbled. "I must say that from seaward Naples Bay looks very romantic."

"Obviously we are going to have to question Orsini more closely," Martin said. "He just mentioned it in passing. I don't think he knows Naples very well - Volterra, where he and his aunt come from, is about a hundred miles north of Rome."

"Do they have cicisbeos in Rome and other places?" Kenton wondered.

"From the way Orsini spoke," Martin said, "they are peculiar to Naples. Don't forget that Naples is so far south that it is a very different city from Rome or those places in the north."

"Well," declared Hill, "we're going to have to wait and see. But thanks for the warning: it seems the innocent young English naval officer is in great danger from both the cicisbeo and the husband, and he has to beware the mother if the girl is a spinster."

CHAPTER SEVEN | Ramage and the Saracens | CHAPTER NINE