Ramage & the Saracens

Ramage & the Saracens by Dudley Pope

Book: Ramage & the Saracens by Dudley Pope Read Free Book Online
Authors: Dudley Pope
as fast, with smoke streaming out of her ports. Then he noticed a thin stream of water pouring over her side.
    â€œShe’s got her pump going,” he commented. “An odd time to be pumping the bilges.”
    Then he could see with the naked eye that the stream of water was getting larger: the pump must be working harder.
    The water was clear, not stained, so it was not just a question of pumping the bilges to get the last few tons of water out of the ship to increase her speed. Had a lucky shot stove in some butts of fresh water? No, there was more water being pumped out than could be accounted for by that.
    Again and again the
’s broadsides coughed out. Ramage thought of crashing alongside the ship and boarding her, an idea he later dismissed when he thought of the casualties.
    Then Paolo Orsini said respectfully: “Sir, she seems to be a little deeper in the water.”
    And she was: as soon as Ramage inspected the French ship carefully, he could distinguish that she was throwing up a bigger bow wave and the pump dale was emptying as much water over the side as the pump could handle.
    â€œShe’s got a bad leak,” Southwick said happily. “But it’s not from one of our shot-holes, I’ll be bound. She’s not been rolling enough for any hits ‘twixt wind and water to cause her much trouble.”
    Ramage saw movement up in the bow and looked with his telescope, startled to see a group of men round the anchors. Suddenly an anchor dropped from the cathead and was then cut adrift so that it fell into the sea.
    â€œLook at that!” Southwick bellowed, pointing astern, where a boat was bobbing half submerged in
Le Jason
’s wake. “And there’s another!” he exclaimed. “My oath, they’re cutting their boats adrift.”
    â€œAnd their anchors,” Ramage said. “They’re trying to save weight!”
    At that moment he caught Aitken’s eye and both men nodded.
    â€œShe stove in a plank or two when she went aground: probably stranded on a rock and strained herself when they sailed her off,” Ramage said.
    Southwick groaned and Ramage stared at him.
    â€œI was thinking of rescuing all those Frenchmen,” the master explained. “They’ll probably outnumber us!”
    â€œAnd all the men in the other frigate,” Aitken said. “We’ll have five hundred prisoners!”
    â€œSteady on,” Ramage said. “We haven’t captured either ship yet and this fellow is showing no sign of surrendering.”
    â€œWell, we don’t want to board her unless we want wet feet,” Southwick growled.
    â€œNo, we’ll just hold off as we are and watch her sink.”
    And a few thousand pounds in prize-money will vanish before our eyes, Ramage thought. There will be head-money for the prisoners—but what a risk, to saddle the ship with so many survivors. But there was no question of leaving them to drown: the captain was cutting away the boats and anchors, and presumably the spare yards, masts and booms would be next to go.
    Obviously he would have started all the fresh water, stoving in the casks so that the water ran into the bilge and could be pumped out. That would save him—well, if he was halfway through his cruise—about twenty-five tons.
    â€œWe haven’t finished with her yet,” Ramage reminded the two men. “As far as I can see, every one of her guns on this side is still firing …”
    Ramage tried to put himself in the place of the French captain. A bad leak, every spare man at the pump, cranking the handles round as fast as possible to keep a steady stream of water pouring into the pump dale and over the side. But men could only pump for a certain amount of time before becoming exhausted, and it was obvious since the ship was becoming lower in the water and the captain was getting rid of all the extra weight he could, that the leak was gaining on him:

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