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Rear-Admiral Charles Rudd was extremely angry. "Damnation, Ramage, you let a couple of ships of the line slip through our fingers while you went chasing after a couple of frigates!"

"But sir, I could never have got here in time for you to send a force to take those ships."

"How do you know? You've no idea how long it took them to get seaworthy again. I'd been looking everywhere for those two. It was your duty to get here as fast as you could and warn me."

Ramage repressed a sigh. He had already described to the Rear-Admiral in both words and a written report the circumstances of the collision, and how he had considered and finally turned down the idea of making a dash for Naples to raise the alarm, knowing there was no time, but the Rear-Admiral could not get out of his mind the picture of two ships of the line locked together and helpless, just waiting to be captured.

It was hot in the cabin of the flagship; the Defender was lying at anchor in an airless Naples Bay, a 100-gun ship with two 74s nearby. Rudd, a thin-faced, morose man with a high-pitched voice, had greeted the Calypso's arrival with Le Tigre without enthusiasm. Almost his first words when Ramage had reported on board the flagship had been: "Let me have your written report." It was only after he had read the report and discovered about the collision between the two French ships that he had become enraged, vowing that his two 74s could have got to the French before they could have made themselves seaworthy.

The sinking of one frigate and the capture of another, even though the circumstances were fully described in the report, were dismissed as being of slight importance. Finally Ramage thought of a way to change the subject slightly.

"The prisoners I put ashore on the island of Capraia, sir: I doubt if there is nearly enough food on the island for them and the local people."

"I should think not," Rudd growled. "I don't know why the devil you landed all the prisoners there."

The remark was so stupid and unfair, in Ramage's view, that he made no comment: one could not argue with flag officers, at least not with this one, who seemed to be a singularly obtuse man.

Rudd's day cabin in the Defender, extending the width of the ship, was sparsely furnished. Either Rudd liked to live a Spartan existence or he was a poor man, unlucky where prize money was concerned. There were half a dozen chairs, a small table that showed he did not do much entertaining on board, a battered mahogany wine cooler which most flag officers would have scorned, regarding it as only suitable for the wardroom, and the curtains drawn back on either side of the sternlights were of heavy red velvet, well faded by sunlight.

The furnishings of the cabin, Ramage thought, were a clue to Rudd's attitude: he was a disappointed man.

Rudd tapped Ramage's report, which he was still holding in his hand. "I shall forward this to their Lordships, and I can tell you they won't like it. No, they won't like it a bit. They will consider-as I do - that you have not backed up your flag officer: instead, you have chased after prize money. Well, I warn you now, I may not buy in Le Tigre; she needs a great deal of repair, judging from your report, and I have next to no facilities here. So let that be a lesson to you: do your duty instead of chasing after prize money."

The remark was so obviously that of an embittered man that before Ramage could stop himself he said: "I don't need the money, sir."

"Ha, that's an old excuse! Where do you think your present command came from?"

"I captured it in the West Indies," Ramage said quietly, and Rudd gave a dismissive wave of his hand.

"Well, Ramage, you arrive here with a frigate and another one which is badly damaged, and a tale of four hundred prisoners abandoned on the island of Capraia. What am I supposed to do?"

Ramage realized that whatever he said would be wrong: the Rear-Admiral was still dazzled by the prospect of two French ships of the line locked together, just waiting for him to come along and capture them and pocket the prize money - and buy some new curtains, Ramage thought.

And why, Ramage thought angrily, if I can sink one and capture another French frigate in a morning, are Rudd's frigates and 74s spending their time at anchor in Naples Bay? Yet he knew that a junior post-captain expecting to be treated fairly by a new flag officer was whistling in the dark. Or, rather, singing to the moon.

"I suppose I have to collect those prisoners," Rudd continued. Then apparently not realizing the contradiction, said: "I'll need to send both my 74s if there are four hundred of them."

So, Ramage thought bitterly, two 74s are going to be sent to carry out a task that a few minutes ago you expected to be done by one frigate's ship's company . . .

"You'll forfeit the head money," Rudd said. "I'm not paying out for prisoners I have to collect myself."

"I don't know the statutes concerning head money, sir," Ramage said bitterly, "but I thought it was paid to the ship that captured the prisoners, not to the ship that simply transported them."

"Absolutely rubbish," Rudd said. "All you did was put them ashore on the island."

"I captured - indeed rescued from the sea - the men in Le Jason and certainly captured those in Le Tigre. The fact I put them ashore on Capraia doesn't alter the fact I captured them in the first place, sir."

"Don't argue with me," Rudd said brusquely, "there's no head money for you."

So the captains of the two 74s (presumably Rudd's favourites) would get the head money. Yes, it was unfair, Ramage thought; but this sort of thing happened when you had flag officers like Rudd. They would play favourites all the time. Favoured frigate captains could be sent to cruise in areas where they would be most likely to find prizes; frigate captains out of favour - or simply not well known to the flag officer - would be sent off escorting convoys, the most tedious and profitless task in the Navy.

Well, there was nothing he could do about it; Rudd was a rear-admiral and flag officer on the station; Ramage was, he realized, probably the most junior post-captain and certainly the latest arrival on the station. All it needed now, he thought grimly, was orders to escort a convoy to somewhere like Malta, or Gibraltar.

But Rear-Admiral Rudd was clearly considering something: his narrow and lined face was contorted with thought; he was gripping one thin hand in another, as though trying to twist off the fingers. Finally he said: "I'll send you with the 74s because you know where you landed the two groups of Frenchmen, and I don't want the 74s to have to comb the island for them. You won't take off any of the prisoners, so it won't affect the head money; you'll just act as a pilot."

Ramage said nothing; in due course he would be getting written orders and that would be that. He would pilot the two 74s to their head money, and no one would say thank you.

"I've heard about you," Rudd said unexpectedly. "You have quite a reputation in the Navy. Among other things, for not being very strict in obeying orders. I want to make it clear that while you serve on this station you obey both the spirit and the letter of my orders. I hope I make myself quite clear, Ramage."

"Indeed you do, sir," Ramage said politely. "Abundantly clear."

So now we get that too, Ramage thought: a flag officer jealous of a junior officer who had many of his despatches published as Gazette letters. The flag officers never considered that one had to da something in the first place, and publishing a despatch in the Gazette was up to their Lordships at the Admiralty: they were the people who decided which despatches were printed.

It was ironic, he thought, that famous admirals like Lord St Vincent and the late Lord Nelson were delighted when one had a letter published in the Gazette; it was only little men like Rudd, who had probably reached the summit of his career and knew it, who were resentful.

"Very well," Rudd said, "you'll be getting written orders in due course; in the meantime, I presume you have your weekly accounts and returns ready for me?"

"Yes," Rossi agreed, "the Bay of Naples is very beautiful, but stay in the Bay - don't go on shore!" "What's wrong with the shore?" demanded Stafford.

"The shore is full of Neapolitans, and they are to Italy what the Cockneys are to England."

" 'Ere," demanded Stafford, "wotcher mean by that?"

"In two minutes they have all your money; in three they have your shirt; in four they've stuck a knife in your back and left you for dead!"

"Oh, so that's what happens among the Cockneys, too?" asked an offended Stafford. "Well, I might remind you that when you came to stay at my 'ome when we was given leave from Chatham, you didn't lose a penny piece nor an 'air off your 'ead!"

"Excuse me, I exaggerated," Rossi said placatingly. "What I mean to say is all Neapolitans are lazzaroni: pickpockets and murderers. So be careful if you go on shore."

"What about where you come from?" Stafford persisted. "Is it any better in Genoa?"

"The worst you ever hear about Geneva is that the Genovesi are, how do you say, tight-fisted; a bit careful with their money."

"Mean," Stafford said. "Mean like the Scots."

Rossi shrugged. "Call it what you like, but I think it is only sensible to keep your hand on your money when standing in a crowd of pickpockets, and to count your change when dealing with cheats."

Gilbert laughed softly. "Between Neapolitans, Genovesi and Cockneys, how is a poor Frenchman to survive?"

"Don't ever go on shore," Jackson advised. "Pass the bread barge."

Louis slid it along the table towards him. Then Jackson continued: "On shore all is wickedness. Why, London was so wicked that it shocked poor old Staff into joining the King's service and coming to sea. Genoa was so wicked even Rosey could not stand the competition and came to sea. And I wonder about you four -" he gestured at Gilbert, Louis, Auguste and Albert,"- what made you leave Brest?"

Gilbert laughed. "Well, we are the only ones with a good excuse because we escaped with Mr Ramage and Lady Sarah. The only thing wrong with Brest is Bonaparte's men; they are all murderers."

Stafford gave a melodramatic sigh. "Well, it seems the Calypso is a home for us poor refugees!"

"Refugees be damned," Jackson said. "I volunteered."

"I should think so," said Stafford. "Revolting, that's what you Americans are! You didn't know when you were well off."

"I jumped out of the frying pan into the fire when I took the King's shilling," Jackson said mildly.

"But I bet you took the precaution of getting that Protection first," Stafford said. "With an American Protection in your pocket you can get out whenever you want."

"Aye, I have a Protection," Jackson admitted, "but I don't think getting out 'whenever I want' is so easy. I have to apply to an American consul, and there aren't many of them about. That's where Americans get stuck: they can't get leave to go on shore, so they can't get to a consul."

"Then they shouldn't have joined in the first place," Stafford said unsympathetically.

"A lot of them don't join, as you well know," Jackson said stiffly. "They get pressed into service from some British or neutral ship even though they have Protections just because the officer in charge of the pressgang reckons they're British."

"They usually are," said Stafford. "They just got a Protection at the Customs House - or an American consul - when they managed to get on shore. I've met dozens of British seamen with Protections. After all, what does a Protection prove? Nothing. It just says the man appeared before the Customs officer or consul and said he was an American subject born in such and such a place. He doesn't have to prove it. Then it goes on to say he appears to be a certain age, has a certain colour hair, and so on. Half the Navy have dark brown hair, light complexion and 'stand about five feet eight inches'."

"You're just bitter because you don't have a Protection," Jackson said teasingly.

"Oh yes, I do!" exclaimed Stafford. "I bought it off a chap five years ago. It says my name is Matthew Fletcher and I was born in Wilmington, Delaware. It is signed by the Customs collector there, and it describes me perfectly."

"Why don't you use it, then?" Jackson asked.

"For the same reason you don't use yours," Stafford said. "I'm quite happy where I am."

"I'll remind you of that when you have one of your fits of grousing," Jackson said. "There are times when you sound like the most miserable man on earth."

"Wot a lie," Stafford exclaimed. "Why, 'appy Will Stafford from Bridewell Lane - everybody knows me!"

"Don't lose that Protection," Jackson advised. "You might need it some time to save yourself from us."

Ramage wriggled in the chair, which was too small for a grown man, and he wondered how it had got into the captain's day cabin of the 74-gun ship. Yet the chair was no more uncomfortable than the manner of the captain, Edward Arbuthnot, commanding the Intrepid. Arbuthnot was just the opposite of his admiral: where Rudd was thin and tall, Arbuthnot was stocky and plump. The only similarity, Ramage reflected, was that both men had a shifty manner; neither inspired confidence; they were not the men to find it easy to get credit at a gaming table. They were men, Ramage decided, with whom all transactions would have to be in cash.

"Well, Ramage," Arbuthnot said, "since you know where you landed these dam' Frenchmen on Capraia, the Admiral tells me you will act as our pilot."

Ramage shrugged his shoulders and said politely: "I don't know what good I will be able to do. The French will have moved since then. I put one group ashore north of the port and the other south. By now they'll probably have joined up at the port - it's the only village on the island."

"It'll be up to you to find them," Arbuthnot said shortly. "You landed them, you find them."

Ramage saw the trap: Arbuthnot was preparing the way for his own men failing, and was making sure he had a scapegoat ready. The Admiral's orders to me do not say that," Ramage said carefully.

"Perhaps not, but I do, and I'm the senior officer on this operation," Arbuthnot said sharply.

"You and the Phoenix will be carrying five hundred troops, as well as your usual ship's company," Ramage pointed out. "I'll just have my ship's company."

"You seem to have plenty of excuses even before you start," Arbuthnot sneered.

"No, but it shouldn't be too difficult to round up the Frenchmen with all the troops you have at your disposal."

Clearly Arbuthnot did not want to be reminded of that. "Rounding them up will not be difficult," he said. "But first they must be found."

"Indeed," Ramage agreed. "I can't see them staying in the village after two British 74s and a frigate come and anchor in the bay. If they have any sense they'll take to the hills, and there are plenty of them on Capraia."

"Well, you find them and tell us where they are, and the troops will come and capture them."

And that, thought Ramage, is just too blatant.

"If you'll excuse me," he said, standing up, "I must go and see Admiral Rudd and get my orders clarified. My orders from him state that I pilot you to where in Capraia I landed the French. You now say you expect me to find the French and lead the troops to them. I am not a soldier, nor do I command any of the troops. I think I need Admiral Rudd's views on the point."

As Ramage turned to leave the cabin he saw that he had taken the wind out of Arbuthnot's sails. Immediately he too stood up. stretching out a hand placatingly.

"Do sit down again, Ramage; there is no need to bother the Admiral over a small point like this!"

"That's why I want to speak to him: to me it is not a small point. in fact it concerns the whole aim of the operation."

"Now, now, Ramage," said Arbuthnot, "tell me what is bothering you. Do you want some troops to command?"

"The troops are your concern," Ramage said, determined not to fall into that trap. "I am just saying that my orders are to show you where I landed the French. I can't be expectecd - nor am I ordered - to comb the island looking for the French: that is why you are carrying five hundred troops, quite apart from your Marines."

Clearly Arbuthnot did not want the question referred to Rear-Admiral Rudd: obviously his own orders from the Admiral were more in line with how Ramage saw the situation.

"Very well, Ramage, you point out the landing areas and the troops will be landed to round up these fellows," he said. "Mind you, I shall expect you to co-operate as best you can."

"I assure you I will," Ramage said. "It's simply that I can't search an island the size of Capraia, with all those mountains, with a handful of Marines and a score of seamen."

"No, indeed not," Arbuthnot said. "You just carry out your orders from the Admiral and co-operate with me and Captain Slade - he commands the Phoenix." Back in his day cabin on board the Calypso Ramage described the meeting with Arbuthnot to Aitken and Southwick. Aitken, by virtue of being the first lieutenant, was the second-in-command of the frigate and entitled to know what was going on if only because he would take over command if anything happened to Ramage. Southwick, on the other hand, was only a warrant, not a commission officer: he held his rank by warrant, not a commission, and officially he ranked below the fourth lieutenant, the most junior of the commission officers.

Southwick's strength - why he was brought into many discussions to which his rank did not entitle him - was that he had been master of the little Kathleen cutter when Ramage was given her as his first command. Over the following years - when Ramage had been promoted from commanding a cutter to a brig, and then from a brig to a frigate - Southwick had always gone with him as master. Ramage had pulled many strings to arrange it, but to him having Southwick with him was almost as important as the promotion itself.

With his mop of white hair and benign manner of a country parson, Southwick combined common sense and the courage to express it (particularly when his views might not be popular). If Ramage had been asked to describe Southwick's role, he would probably have said he was a benevolent grandfather who, given the chance to board a French ship wielding his great two-handed sword, was given to bouts of violence.

Now, Southwick was comfortably seated in the armchair while Aitken sprawled on the sofa, and Ramage said: "It seems to me that in the end Arbuthnot is going to expect us to find these damned Frenchmen."

"What's he going to do with all those soldiers?" Southwick asked. "We can muster a couple of dozen Marines and a score of sailors: doesn't seem much compared with five hundred soldiers, as well as the Marines from two 74s and a couple of hundred or so seamen."

Aitken said: "I don't think Captain Arbuthnot has any faith in the soldiers."

"That would explain it," Ramage agreed. "He doesn't want to risk his reputation on five hundred men from the 38th Regiment of Foot."

"I can't say I blame him," Southwick admitted. "Those men have been parading round Naples and getting soft. Suddenly they are going to have to scramble over those hills and mountains of Capraia in the heat and the dust. These French seamen will probably be the first enemy they've ever seen."

"At least they're not Neapolitan troops," Ramage said jokingly. "If they were, I could understand Arbuthnot's nervousness."

"Aye," Southwick said with a contemptuous sniff. "I wouldn't match five hundred Neapolitans against fifty French seamen. Fifty unarmed French seamen."

"That's quite a point," Ramage said. "These seamen will be unarmed, unless they've been able to find some old blunderbusses and fowling pieces in the port."

"Did this Captain Arbuthnot strike you as a bit of an old woman, sir?" asked Southwick.

Ramage nodded. "Yes, and querulous too. I'm inclined to think he's suffering from nervousness at the prospect of handling soldiers."

"It'd be a joke," Aitken said, "if we arrive and find out all the Frenchmen had billeted themselves on houses in the village. It's quite likely because they'll all want a roof over their heads, and the only roofs will be in the village."

Ramage laughed and said: "There'll be a few donkey shelters up in the hills. Flea-infested and smelly, but they'd keep the rain out."

"So what do we do, sir?" enquired Aitken.

"If we have to, we'll send out Rennick with one party of Marines and Sergeant Ferris with another, and Martin and Kenton can take a dozen seamen each - the exercise will do them good. Oh yes, and we'll send off Orsini with a dozen men, too. That'll use up some of his surplus energy."

"Two parties of Marines and three of seamen," Aitken said. "Five search parties. They ought to turn up something."

"Orsini should be useful: he speaks Italian and French, so he'll be able to question local people if necessary."

"And bully them, too," Southwick added. "They might want encouraging to talk, even though it's for their own good. Very stubborn, these Italian islanders. They hate everyone not born on their island."

"Very true," Ramage agreed. "They probably put the British in the same category as the French: stranieri, and not to be trusted."

"What with the islanders, the French and Captain Arbuthnot, it seems to me we're in for a busy few hours. And we don't get a penn'orth of head money, either," Southwick grumbled.

"That's the Admiral looking after his favourites," Ramage said bitterly. "It's not the first time something like this has happened and it won't be the last, but it's hard on our chaps."

"It's certainly hard on our chaps," Southwick said, "though thanks to Mr Ramage and prizes, I don't need the money."

"Yes, when are you going to retire?" Ramage asked teasingly, "and live the life of a wealthy country squire?"

"Ah, a few years yet. Live in the country and you get rheumaticks, and I don't want to have to listen to the same parson preaching the same sermon. Gets monotonous, I should reckon. One thing about this life, it doesn't often get monotonous."

"Don't you reckon slogging to windward for a month against a Levanter is monotonous?" asked Aitken sarcastically.

"Oh yes, but then I never did like going to windward," Southwick said. "Going to windward is for fools and those without an option."

"Well spoken," Ramage said. "I'll try and make sure you're never bothered by anything more strenuous than a reach or a run."

"Thank 'ee," Southwick said. "Tell the Admiral, as well!"

CHAPTER SIX | Ramage and the Saracens | CHAPTER EIGHT