The Bonito made a rapid voyage. The winds were light, and for the most part favourable, and the twenty-four oars were kept going night and day, the men relieving each other every two hours, so that they had six hours’ rest between the spells of rowing.
When they rounded the southern point of Italy a sharp lookout was kept for the fleet of Fieschi, but they passed through the straits without catching sight of a single vessel carrying the Genoese flag. The most vigilant watch was now kept for Pisani’s galleys, and they always anchored at the close of day, lest they should pass him in the dark.
Occasionally they overhauled a fishing boat, and endeavoured to obtain news of the two squadrons; but beyond the fact that Fieschi had been seen steering north some days before, and that no signs had been seen of Pisani’s returning fleet, they could learn nothing.
Chapter 11: The Battle Of Antium.
“We are running very far north,” the captain said on the 29th of May. “We are near Antium now, and are getting into what we may call Genoese waters. If anything has occurred to prevent Pisani carrying out his intention of sailing back along this coast, or if he has passed us on the way up, our position would be a hazardous one, for as soon as he has rowed away the Genoese galleys will be on the move again, and even if we do not fall in with Fieschi, we may be snapped up by one of their cruisers.”
“It is rather risky, captain,” Francis agreed; “but our orders are distinct. We were to sail north till we met Pisani, and we must do so till we are within sight of the walls of Genoa. If we then see he is not lying off the port, we shall put about and make our way back again.”
“Yes, if they give us the chance, Messer Francisco; but long before we are sufficiently near to Genoa to make out whether Pisani is lying off the port, they will see us from the hills, and will send off a galley to bring us in. However, we must take our chance, and if we get into a scrape I shall look to you confidently to get us out again.”
“I should advise you not to count on that,” Francis said, laughing. “It is not always one gets such a lucky combination of circumstances as we did at Girgenti.”
At last, they obtained news from a fishing boat that Fieschi’s fleet had passed, going northward, on the previous day, and was now lying in the bay of Antium. As Antium lay but a few miles north, they held a consultation as to the best method to pursue. If they sailed on there was a risk of capture; but that risk did not appear to be very great. The Genoese admiral would not expect to find a Venetian merchant ship so near to Genoa, and they might be able to pass without being interfered with. On the other hand, news might possibly have come of the departure of store ships from Venice for Pisani’s fleet, and in that case a strict lookout would certainly be kept, and it would be necessary to keep so far to sea as to be out of sight of the Genoese; but in that case there would be a risk of their missing Pisani’s fleet on the way down.