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CHAPTER SIX

The trip back to Capraia was a run of less than two hours, and Ramage steered for a position on the coast about three miles north of the little port. Retook the Calypso in to three quarters of a mile from the beach and then, wary of the kind of outlying rocks that had holed Le Jason, brought the frigate head to wind and anchored.

"Hoist out the boats, Mr Aitken," he said after Southwick assured him the anchor was well dug in. "Let's get rid of our passengers."

During the run back to the island he had a long talk with Peyrafitte. Le Jason had had a complement of two hundred and seventy-seven when she began the action, so that one hundred and twelve men had been lost, either from the Calypso's gunfire or by drowning.

The French captain confirmed that the ship had hit a rock off Capraia and the impact had started several planks. At first the pump had kept up with the leak but after that Le Jason's speed through the water while engaging the Calypso had made it worse, and towards the end he was having to take men away from the guns to replace those exhausted at the pump.

Peyrafitte, a stocky and black-haired man with deep brown eyes, said ruefully: "But for the leak, we may have taken you!" "You had fifty more men and we had the same number of guns," Ramage said. "We should both have lost a great number of men."

"I did anyway," Peyrafitte commented.

Ramage shrugged his shoulders. "There could have been more. Considering everything, you are fortunate that you have more than half your men up on the fo'c'sle."

"I know," the Frenchman said, "but I will have to account to my admiral for my navigation."

"Your navigation?" asked a puzzled Ramage.

"That rock," Peyrafitte explained. "It was shown on my chart. I thought we were farther offshore."

"Your chart is better than mine: I had no indication that there were any rocks there."

It was the Frenchman's turn to shrug. "Your chart showed no rock and mine did. You didn't hit it and I did. My admiral will want to know why. He will order a court of inquiry ..."

"But a court of inquiry is routine anyway," Ramage protested.

"Yes," the Frenchman agreed, "but what can I answer when they ask me that question? They won't even know that your chart did not show a rock: it will be enough that mine did and I hit it."

Ramage wanted to console the man: he had fought bravely and he had been beaten by a leak. But from what Ramage had heard the French Navy dealt harshly with anyone who made mistakes, even if they involved misjudging the position of a rock by a few score yards in the midst of an action.

It took an hour to ferry the prisoners ashore. The two hours spent up on the fo'c'sle had done much to revive their spirits; so much so that Ramage told Rennick to put four Marines in each boat, just in case a wild spirit decided to try to rouse his comrades into making an attempt to get control.

The first frigate, Le Tigre, was out of sight round the bend in the coast, and after the boats had returned and men had weighed anchor, Ramage ordered the ship to general quarters.

"She probably won't be there," he said sourly to Aitken.

"They've certainly had time to send up the yards, but we damaged the mainyard."

"She could have got under way with topsails," Ramage said. "She could have gone southabout round the island and we would not have seen her."

"Well, we gave her a battering," Aitken said. "For sure the captain won't be able to use his cabin without dockyard repairs!"

Ramage recalled the raking broadsides they had poured into Le Tigre's stern. How many of those broadsides had swept the length of the ship, dismounting guns and slaughtering men? Perhaps not enough to prevent her escaping while the Calypso pursued Le Jason. Jackson sat on the deck surrounded by his gun's crew. Stafford said firmly:

"She won't be there. She's had plenty of time to bolt. You fink she's going ter 'ang about after Le Jason came down to rescue 'er?"

"Didn't do Le Jason much good," Rossi observed.

"Nah, but what's ter stop Le Tigre escaping?"

"We left them in a mess," said Jackson. "Could they have got the yards up?"

"They'd 'ave escaped with what they got up already," Stafford said scornfully. "Topsails, t'gallants - enough to get under way."

"True enough," Jackson agreed, "providing our raking broadsides didn't do any damage. When we swept the deck I saw a lot of damage. Must have cut a lot of cordage, apart from putting paid to that mainyard."

"We shall know in a few minutes," Gilbert said, getting up and going over to the port. "No, we're not far enough round to see yet."

"Who is making a bet?" Auguste asked. "I bet a tot that she is still there. Any takers?"

"Done!" exclaimed Stafford. "I say she's gone."

"Who'll bet that if she's gone we don't start chasing her?" Jackson asked.

"Cor, you'd 'ave to be mad to take that bet," Stafford said scornfully. "If she's gone she could only have gone round to the westward, and Mr Ramage'll be after her like lightning."

"We'd never catch her," Rossi said. "She'd have a two-hour start on us."

"But she'd be under reduced canvas," Jackson pointed out. "She won't have her main course up. She'll be just jilling along under topsails and topgallants."

"Two hours is two hours," Rossi said doggedly. "Why, she'll probably be out of sight - there's plenty of haze about."

"Let's wait and see," advised Jackson. "We'll know in a few minutes whether or not Staff's won his tot."

Up on the quarterdeck Ramage waited as impatiently as Stafford as he watched the coastline with his telescope.

"It's nice seeing our fo'c'sle clear of prisoners," he commented to South wick.

"Aye, but they'd had all the fight washed out of 'em!"

"Maybe," Ramage agreed, "but it only needed one hothead to rouse them up."

"It would have taken more than one hothead," Southwick said. 'Most of them had swallowed a lot of the Mediterranean, and all they wanted to do was sick it up."

Ramage gestured ahead. "I thought that dam' frigate was anchored in this next bay, but it's not the right shape."

"No, it's another mile or so yet. And the bay cuts in so you won't see anything until you pass the first headland."

Aitken said: "I expect the ship's company are making bets whether or not she's still there."

"What odds are you offering?" Southwick asked jocularly.

"If I was a betting man - which I'm not - I'd give twenty to one that she's gone," Aitken said. "She'll be halfway to Toulon by now."

"We'll see," Southwick said calmly. "If she's gone we'll have a hard time finding her in this haze - it seems to be getting worse."

"She's still there," Ramage said calmly. "I can see the trucks of her masts over the headland."

"Twenty to one, eh?" Southwick said to Aitken. "Don't start taking bets - you'd be bankrupt in short order. Horses are more unpredictable than Frenchmen!"

Ramage tapped one hand with the telescope. "If they've hoisted their colours again - and are still anchored as before - we'll rake em a few times: they'll probably take the hint and haul down their colours again."

"I wish we could rake her across the bow," Southwick said. "There can't be much aft for us to smash up."

"I want to sail her out of here," Ramage said sharply. "So we don't want to risk any damage to her jibboom or bowsprit."

"Oh, I realize that, sir," Southwick said. "It was just getting rather boring raking her stern!"

"Just bear with us a little longer," Ramage said sarcastically.

"Anyway, they may haul down their colours again as soon as they sight us."

"They couldn't have seen us coming back, sir?" Aitken asked.

"I thought of that - in fact I was trying to spot them," Ramage said, "but the bay they are in cuts up to the north-west, so they can't see out to the east or north-east."

"So, we'll surprise them," Aitken said cheerfully. "We've been surprising Frenchmen a lot today."

"As long as they don't start surprising us," Ramage said. "Let's not get too confident."

He gave Aitken a helm order to start rounding the headland and looked for Orsini. The young Italian was standing five yards away, pretending he could not hear the conversation.

"Go round all the guns on the larboard side and warn them that they will probably be raking the Frenchman in about five minutes," he said. "And tell the officers that the Frenchman is here."

His telescope showed the stunted, gnarled olive trees growing along the headland, their leaves glinting silver as the wind caught them. There were dark green patches where cactus grew in sprouting clusters. The ground was rocky: there was little soil on this eastern side of the island and what little grass there was had been ripped up by goats, whose tracks made spiders' web trails.

Le Tigre must be lying in the same position, head to wind and her bows to the east, her stern pointing at the far headland and leaving little room for manoeuvre. At least, that much he could make out from the position of her masts.

And then suddenly the Calypso had rounded the first headland and there, fine on her larboard bow, was Le Tigre, looking much the same as when Ramage had first seen her. The mainyard was still down on deck but her stern was still out of sight. The Tricolour had Been hoisted again; it streamed aft in the breeze in what seemed to Ramage a pointless act of defiance. Not so pointless, he corrected himself: 'Le Tigre thought she had been rescued by Le Jason; she was not to know about that rock further up the coast.

"It'll be like a wasp's nest on her quarterdeck," observed Southwick. "They never expected to see us again."

"There were times when I didn't expect to see her," Ramage said sourly.

He turned to Aitken. "We'll rake her astern with our larboard broadside, if you please; pass thirty yards off her transom."

Roundshot this time at a range of thirty yards. And if they approached carefully, at right angles to the French ship, only a few of the enemy's guns would be able to fire at them.

The Calypso's first broadside smashed even more of the French ship's transom into dust: it always surprised Ramage just how much dust was created. Dust you could see, clouds of it; splinters, many six feet long, you could not see: they were flung up faster than the eye could detect, and they scythed along to kill more men than the roundshot.

The smoke of the guns was just sweeping across the quarterdeck, setting the three officers coughing, when Ramage gave the order to wear round and cross Le Tigre's stern on the other tack.

Slowly, with sails slatting and men hauling at the braces, the Calypso wore round and, after reloading their guns, the crews ran across to the starboard side to be ready for the next broadside. As Aitken shouted orders for trimming the sails the Calypso steadied on her new course and increased speed.

Southwick, staring grimly at Le Tigre's stern, growled: "She won't be able to take many more broadsides like that!"

As he spoke, the Tricolour fluttered down, something first seen by an excited Orsini. Ramage at once seized the speaking trumpet and shouted to the guns to cease fire, but five had already fired before the order was Understood through the ship.

"Serves 'em right," Southwick commented unsympathetically. "They should have hauled down their colours the minute we hove insight."

Two frigates in one day: as Ramage thought back to how the day had begun - with the prospect of destruction by those two ships of the line - he was hard put to believe what he saw. But the Tricolour had been lowered at the run and he had to admit that, with the prospect of another raking broadside, he could not blame the French captain. Blame him, yes, for not getting the yards across and preparing to get under way, instead of assuming that the other frigate would drive off the Englishman. But that was a piece of unjustifiable optimism since he knew that both ships were evenly matched.

"Back the foretopsail, Mr Aitken," Ramage said, wanting to heave-to outside the arcs of fire of Le Tigre's broadside: there was no need to start trusting the Frenchman just because he had hauled down his colours.

But he was back with the same problem: what to do with prisoners. Only this time he would have almost a whole ship's complement, less those killed by the Calypso's broadsides . . . Well, it was the same problem, and there was the same answer: put the prisoners ashore while Le Tigre was repaired and got ready to be sailed away by a prize crew from the Calypso. But the prisoners from Le Tigre would not be half-drowned men unlikely to put up a fight. "We'll anchor, Mr Aitken. And then I want a boat gun fitted in the cutter."

And that was the only safe way of putting the Frenchmen ashore: loading the cutter with a boat gun and a dozen Marines with muskets, and using it to escort the other boats ashore with the prisoners. But first he had to go over to Le Tigre and take her surrender. Was the captain still alive?

The French captain was dead; he had been killed when Ramage had ordered the Calypso's guns to sweep Le Tigre's decks. Ramage saw that the ship's first lieutenant had been so shocked by the attack and the death of his captain that instead of getting the ship ready for sea he had spent the time having the men clear up the ship and prepare the bodies for burial. More than thirty bodies were lined up on deck, neatly sewn into their hammocks, and waiting for the funeral service to be read.

The lieutenant, Christian La Croix, had met Ramage at the entryport and immediately offered his sword, as though scared that if he did not do it immediately Ramage would open fire again.

La Croix told Ramage that Le Tigre had originally been part of a force which had included the two line of battleships, but she had sprung her mainyard and foreyard and had been ordered into the lee - as it then was - of Capraia. The wind had changed, making the island a lee shore, but the captain had not considered the wind strong enough to be a threat.

The captain had never expected to see a British ship, and he had been caught completely unawares when the Calypso had suddenly appeared round the headland. The first raking broadsides had swept through the ship, cutting men down in swathes. Since they could not manoeuvre and thus could not bring any guns to bear, and when the captain was killed, the lieutenant had decided the only thing he could do to stop the slaughter was to surrender, and hardly had he hauled down his colours than he saw Le Jason (also part of the original force but detached to inspect a distant sail) returning. The Calypso and Le Jason had engaged each other immediately, and when the Calypso had not returned two hours later he assumed she had been taken. A wrong assumption, he admitted ruefully.

Then, he said quite openly, the Calypso had suddenly reappeared, round the northern headland this time, and once again caught him unprepared. He had not seen the masts of the British frigate approaching; the first he knew was when a lookout saw the ship rounding the headland with her guns run out.

Ramage had been told all this story while they stood on deck by the entryport. He was quite ready to take La Croix's word for it that the dead captain's cabin no longer existed.

After returning the lieutenant's sword - much to La Croix's surprise, since he thought that by surrendering he had brought dishonour on himself twice in one day - Ramage told him that he intended putting all Le Tigre's ship's company ashore, except for the wounded, who would be taken to the Calypso for treatment. Those too badly wounded to be moved would be treated on board Le Tigre. The ship's surgeon, Ramage said, would have to remain on board as a prisoner. In the meantime one of the officers could read the funeral service over the dead.

Back on board the Calypso, Ramage revised his orders. The prisoners would be ferried ashore in the two cutters, and the jolly-boat would be armed with a boat gun and would carry a dozen Marines. The two cutters would be rowed to the shore keeping either side of the jolly-boat. If the French prisoners tried to take control of one or other of the cutters, Ramage instructed, the men at the oars should jump over the side, leaving the way open for the boat gun in the jolly-boat to open fire.

Orsini was put in command of the jolly-boat with Jackson and his boat crew, with Marines to handle the gun, which fitted on the forward thwart and fired two pounds of musket balls.

To take the first boatload of prisoners ashore, the jolly-boat was rowed over to Le Tigre and she stayed close to the entryport while the cutters went alongside. Two Marines searched each man as he came down the ship's side to make sure that he was not concealing a pistol or a knife.

The wind was kicking up a chop as the two cutters and jolly-boat set off on their first trip to the shore. Orsini, proud and excited at commanding a little flotilla of three boats, kept a sharp lookout and steered for a forty-yard-long stretch of beach between rocks. There was a slight swell breaking on the sand but each boat had a grapnel ready to drop as it went in and which would prevent its stern from swinging round so that the boat broached.

Ramage had left Hill and a dozen seamen on board the French ship to supervise the transfer of prisoners and had taken Lieutenant La Croix over to the Calypso: he would remain a prisoner of war on board. La Croix had been taken below under guard and Ramage was idly watching the two cutters return empty, escorted by the jolly-boat. Suddenly he saw the cutters as they approached Le Tigre quickly swerve away and wait about thirty yards from the entryport. The jolly-boat went up to the entryport, paused for three or four minutes, and then turned and headed for the Calypso, A puzzled Ramage called Aitken and Southwick and went to wait at the entryport. As soon as the jolly-boat came alongside and hooked on, Orsini hurried on board and saluted Ramage.

"The French prisoners have seized Mr Hill and the Marines," he reported angrily. "They warned me and the cutters to keep off. . ."

"What are their demands?" Ramage enquired.

"They made none, sir. I think they just seized our people without any plan."

"Do they have a spokesman?"

"There's a big fat seaman who shouted down at me. He looks like the ringleader."

Ramage thought for a moment. If he made a single mistake now there would be an inglorious stalemate: a stalemate which he had caused by not putting a strong guard on board Le Tigre. He had assumed, since she had surrendered and could not get under way, that all her men were helpless. Clearly they were not.

"Go back to Le Tigre" he told Orsini. "Tell the ringleader that we shall start raking his ship as soon as we get under way again, and will go on raking her until they hoist a white flag showing they surrender."

"But Mr Hill ...?" asked Orsini.

"Mr Hill and the rest of them will have to take their chance," Ramage said abruptly.

As Orsini scrambled down to the jolly-boat, Ramage gave his orders. Southwick was told to get the ship under way again - which meant letting the foretopsail draw - while Aitken was ordered to make sure the guns on both broadsides were loaded, and the crews were distributed as evenly as possible, since many men were away in the two cutters and jolly-boat.

"Supposing the French put Hill and the rest of our men right aft, sir?" Southwick asked.

"I'm assuming they will," Ramage said bitterly, "in which case they'll be killed - if we have to open fire."

Southwick nodded reluctantly, because he liked Hill. "I suppose we have no choice."

"None that I can think of," Ramage said.

By now the foretopsail was drawing and she began to wear round to pass across Le Tigre's stern.

"Pass the word to the guns that they are not to fire the first time we cross Le Tigre's stern," Ramage told Aitken. "But we shall tack and pass back, if necessary, and they will open fire with the starboard broadside."

"Pass just close enough to keep our yards clear," Ramage said to Southwick.

As the Calypso turned, Ramage watched the group of Frenchmen by the entryport. The jolly-boat had been up to the ship and, now that Orsini had delivered his warning, was rowing clear, followed by the cutters. Ramage could imagine the debate among the French: they could now see the English frigate, with guns run out, manoeuvring to deliver another of her raking broadsides which had already killed so many Frenchmen. Would the fat spokesman (ringleader, most likely) now realize that he had just signed the death warrants for another score or so of his shipmates?

The Calypso slowly turned as though to bring her larboard broadside to bear as she passed across Le Tigre's stern, and Ramage watched the French ship closely. He had decided to make one false run to give the French time to find a white flag: they would have to make one up from an old sheet, or even hoist up a square of canvas, though the colour would be far from white.

Then, as Ramage's telescope swept Le Tigre's stern, he saw running men waving shirts. Then the Tricolour was hoisted a few feet and then hauled down again. There was no mistaking the movement.

"They're surrendering again," Southwick said with a contemptuous sniff. "They can't find a white flag!"

"Keep going," Ramage said. "It won't do 'em any harm to think they're going to be raked again."

The Calypso passed close under Le Tigre's stern without firing and then wore round to pass back again and returned to her original position, where she hove-to.

Almost immediately Orsini was alongside with the jolly-boat and coming on board for orders.

"Bring that spokesman over here, and then carry on with the cutters taking men ashore," Ramage said. "But I want to talk to the fat man."

Orsini said: "I thought you were going to rake her, sir: it looked very frightening from the jolly-boat."

"It had to look frightening for the bluff to work," Ramage said.

"You mean you would not have fired, sir?" Orsini asked.

"That fat man thought so, and that's all that matters," Ramage said.

"I thought you would, too," Orsini said with a shiver. "I thought I'd seen the last of Mr Hill."

"I expect Mr Hill thought he had seen the last of us, too," Ramage said grimly.

Orsini went back to the jolly-boat and ferried the fat man before resuming escorting the cutters. Ramage could see the crowd of Frenchmen assembled on the beach growing larger and larger.

The fat man was made to stand at the gangway with two Marines behind him. He was, Ramage thought, one of the most repulsive men he had ever seen. The fat on his stomach made him look like an inflated bladder; the fat on his face hung down like the jowls of a bloodhound. The man was greasy and unshaven. But even as he stood in front of the two Marines he was wringing his hands, like an apologetic innkeeper. He said nothing but his hands kept on moving. Clearly, Ramage realized, the man expected to be shot and thrown over the side. Well, there was no reason to let him think differently - for a while, anyway.

"Well," Ramage said coldly in French, "your commanding officer had surrendered the ship, hadn't he?"

"Yes, M'sieur." "And that included you?"

"Yes, M'sieur." "Then why did you make my men hostages and tell the boat to keep off?"

"I don't know, M'sieur," the man said miserably.

"Don't be stupid: you persuaded the rest of your ship's company to follow you."

"Oh no!" the man exclaimed. "No, they didn't. At least, a few did but the rest said it was suicide. Why - they ran aft and surrendered the ship again just as you were going to open fire!"

"Oh, so it wasn't you surrendering?"

"No, sir," the man said, perspiring freely and wiping his forehead with his hand. "No, not me."

"Why not? Didn't you agree with them surrendering?"

"I was too scared," the man admitted. "I thought you were going to rake us again - and I was afraid of being killed."

Well, Ramage thought, at least you are an honest man. He turned and told Aitken in English to pass the word to Rennick to have a file of half a dozen Marines line up on the gangway facing the fat man.

It took several minutes and during that time Ramage did not speak a word. The fat man, eyes bulging, watched every move round him. Finally the file of Marines were ready and Sergeant Ferris saluted Ramage smartly. "The men you requested all fallen in and ready, sir."

"Very well, sergeant," Ramage said formally, returning the salute.

By now there was almost complete silence on deck: seamen had stopped and were watching the fat man; Aitken and Southwick stood to one side of Ramage and Sergeant Ferris stood beside the Marines.

Ramage turned again to the Frenchman, who was perspiring so heavily he looked as though he was melting.

"What you were doing," Ramage said deliberately, "was fomenting a mutiny. Your captain - the lieutenant who had taken over command - had surrendered. In other words he had given you orders to cease fighting. But later you - whoever you are - gave new orders to the men: you told them to drive off the English, to whom your new captain had surrendered.

"Death!" Ramage suddenly thundered at the man, who immediately fainted in an untidy heap.

The two Marines behind him put their muskets down on the deck and dragged him to his feet, letting go of him as soon as he could stand unaided.

Ramage said: "Death! That is what I could order, and there -" he pointed to the Marines, "- are the men of a firing squad. Yes, death is what I could order for you. And I may yet. For the time being you will be taken below and put in irons."

As soon as the man had been taken away, Southwick said: "I thought you meant it! It would have been the first firing squad you've ever assembled."

"The fat man thought I meant it, too," Ramage said. "I've never seen anyone faint like that before!"

Ramage waited until the two cutters had finished ferrying the prisoners ashore and as soon as they turned back towards the Calypso with the jolly-boat he said: "Pass the word for the carpenter, Mr Southwick: we'll go over and inspect Le Tigre. I want to see what repairs have to be done to make her seaworthy."

The three men went across in the jolly-boat to find Hill ready to greet them.

"I expect I gave you a few minutes of worry," Ramage said to Hill. The third lieutenant grinned.

"You did, sir: I had a feeling that you were serious."

"I was," Ramage admitted, "but I thought the Frenchman's nerve would fail first."

Ramage led the way below. Aft the captain's day cabin, dining cabin and bed place were no longer recognizable: the bulkheads had been smashed in along with the sternlights: there was no sign that windows had ever been fitted in the transom. The grapeshot, after smashing in the cabins, had swept forward to pepper the mizenmast and rip at the carriages of the aftermost guns.

On deck the mainyard had been hit by three shot which had, fortunately, not split the spar. The original damage which had caused the French to lower the spar down on to the deck comprised a long shake, or split, in the middle which the French had already begun to fish by fixing battens round it, like long splints.

The carpenter inspected the spar with South wick, and then reported to Ramage: "A day's work to repair it and the foreyard and sway them up again, sir."

"Very well," Ramage said. "Have as many men as you want. What about the damage below?"

The carpenter shrugged his shoulders. "We can't do anything about the damage from our broadsides, sir: that's a dockyard job. I'll just check the steering and the foot of the mizenmast, and sound the well. But that's all I can do."

"A day, eh? So we can get the ship under way in two days."

"Unless I find the steering damaged, sir, or something unexpected."

"Good. All I want is to get her under way; she need not be in fighting trim, but she must sail."

He then sent for Hill, and talking to him from amid the wreckage of the captain's cabin he said: "You are going to be the prize-master, with Orsini as your second-in-command. From now on you will live on board and start getting the ship ready for sea. I'll send you twenty-five men, and as soon as you can you'll have the rigging fitted and the mainyard and foreyard crossed."

"Aye aye, and thank you, sir," Hill said. "Where do I make for?"

"Naples. You'll sail in company with the Calypso, but get what charts you might need from Southwick and copy them: we might be separated by bad weather."

Having given his orders, Ramage took the carpenter back to the Calypso to collect the tools he needed and the carpenter's mates. Ramage told Aitken to choose twenty-five men to go across and put themselves under Hill's command. "There should be plenty of provisions and water," he said, "but pass the word to Hill to check them."

Fishing the two yards and plugging the worst shot holes took the full day that the carpenter had estimated, but in the meantime Hill's men had lowered the topgallant and foresails and overhauled them, before sending them up again. Hill had the maincourse spread out over the deck and overhauled, several patches being stitched in where there was chafe. Finally, the two yards were hoisted up and fitted in place.

Later that afternoon Jackson and Stafford were standing on the Calypso's fo'c'sle with Rossi and Gilbert. The sun was still high, there was little more than a gentle breeze from the south-west -giving the two ships a lee from Capraia at last- and the clouds were rounded into fantastic shapes, reminding Jackson of Trade wind clouds and making him nostalgic for the West Indies.

"Yer know," Stafford said, "I can't see 'ow all those prisoners from the two frigates are going to survive on that island. There can't be much more food than the local people need . . ."

"I can guess who is going to go without," Jackson commented.

"Yus, so can I, but it don't seem fair."

Jackson shrugged his shoulders. "It wouldn't be fair to have 350 French prisoners on board us, either. They'd outnumber us by a hundred or so, and with a few chaps like that fat man they'd soon try to take the ship. Probably succeed, too: sheer weight of numbers."

"All right, all right. I'm persuaded Jacko," Stafford said. "But what d'you think, Gilbert?"

"I think Mr Ramage was right. It wouldn't matter to me if Capraia was a desert island with no water: I wouldn't keep those men on board as prisoners. They'd turn on us and cut our throats."

'What's Mr Ramage going to do with the fat man?" Stafford asked Jackson.

"How should I know? If it was up to me I'd throw him over the side, but I suppose he'll be brought to trial, or something."

"I thought I'd fall down laughing when he fainted," Stafford said. "I quite believed Mr Ramage when he said 'Death!' - it's about (he only French word I understand. I expected the Marines to shoot him there and then."

"So did I," Gilbert admitted, "and it's a pity they didn't. That man is evil."

"Well, he's down below in irons now," Jackson said.

"Yus, that's all very well, but he could have been the death of Mr Hill and the Marines. Mr Ramage was all ready to rake 'em again!"

"I wonder," Jackson said. "He wanted the fat man to think so, and the only way to do that was to sail across his stern. But don't you reckon he was bluffing?"

"There's no way of telling," Rossi said. "If he was bluffing, well, it worked, and that's all that matters."

"Gave Mr Hill a bad five minutes, though."

"Gave everyone a bad five minutes," Jackson said, "including Mr Ramage. If his bluff hadn't worked, he'd have had to open fire, and can you imagine how he'd have felt, firing on his own men?"

"Not half as bad as the men," Stafford said ironically. "But you're probably right, Jacko; he was bluffing, and he guessed right that the fat man's nerve wouldn't hold out."

"It wasn't Mr Ramage's first bit of bluff today," Gilbert pointed out. "That was bluff when he steered across the bow of that ship of the line."

Jackson shook his head.

"I don't agree with you there, Gilbert. No one knew the Frenchman would turn away, and I'm damned sure Mr Ramage wasn't going to. It's just that the French captain lost his nerve."

"Exactly!" exclaimed Gilbert, showing excitement for the first time that Jackson could remember. "The French captain's nerve broke before Mr Ramage's, just as the fat man's did. That's where Mr Ramage is so clever, he knows the French so well. He knows exactly when they will break."

Jackson shook his head again, only this time it was because of near incredulity. "I believe you are right, Gilbert. I never thought of it like that but, as you say, it's the second time today."

Gilbert nodded contentedly. "Yes, to understand Mr Ramage's mind, you have to think like a Frenchman."

"He's right, Jacko," Rossi said. "He understands the French mind. The Italian, too: you remember all the tricks he played when we've been in Italy."

"Well, he speaks Italian and French: they're very much alike, and perhaps speaking the language gives you an insight into the way they think."

"Try and think of another explanation," Stafford said. "There isn't one. Not unless you want to believe in magic and voodoo."

"I tell you someone else like Mr Ramage," Gilbert said, "and that's Mr Orsini."

"You're right!" Jackson exclaimed. "He would have stayed almost alongside that frigate this morning if I hadn't steered us away without orders. I thought then he was just excited and forgot to get us out of range, but I think you're right; he knew Mr Ramage was bluffing."

"He's a bright young lad, that's for sure," Stafford said. "It's a pity the Marcheeza can't see him."

"Marchesa," said Jackson. "She's dead by now," he added lugubriously. "Boney's men will have murdered her."

"I don't see why," Stafford said.

"Don't be stupid!" Rossi said explosively. "You don't think Bonaparte would let her go back to Volterra, do you? Why, if she suddenly arrived just about everyone would rally to her and revolt against the French."

"Yus, but he can put her in prison in Paris."

"That's not Bonaparte's way. He'd be afraid she would escape. No, he'd kill her. Then there's no risk of her escaping and no risk of her marrying and having children, which would mean heirs."

"She was a wonderful woman," Stafford said. "What times we had with her on board. I always reckoned Mr Ramage would marry her."

"Religion," Jackson said laconically. "She was Catholic, he's a Protestant. Anyway, she was very hot-tempered, you know; I don't reckon she would have suited Mr Ramage over the long haul. I reckon Lady Sarah suits him in every way. A fine woman, Lady Sarah."

"I'm not saying she isn't," Stafford said hastily. "I was just thinking about the Marcheeza. It's horrible to think of her murdered. She was so young - and so, well, alive."

"Well, you'd better get used to the idea that she's dead," Jackson said quietly. "I'm sure both Mr Ramage and Mr Orsini think site's dead. Not that they have any way of knowing one way or another."

"It's a damned shame," Stafford said. "Such a beautiful lady she was."



CHAPTER FIVE | Ramage and the Saracens | CHAPTER SEVEN



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