“Set the carpenter and some of the hands to work, to caulk the seams as well as they can from the inside, and set a gang to work at the pumps at once. It is unfortunate that it is blowing so hard. If the wind had gone down instead of rising, we would have recaptured the whole fleet, one by one.”
The Pluto was kept within a short distance of the captured vessel, and Parucchi presently shouted out that he had freed two hundred prisoners.
“Arm them at once!” Francis shouted back. “Extinguish your light, and board the vessel whose light you see on your starboard bow. I will take the one to port. When you have captured her, lower the sails of both vessels. I will do the same. You will keep a little head sail set, so as to keep them before the wind; but do not show more than you can help. I wish the rest of the fleet to outrun us, as soon as possible.”
The Pluto sheered off from the prize, and directed her course towards the vessel nearest to her, which she captured as easily as she had done the preceding. But this time, not only were her bulwarks stove in, but the chain plates were carried away; and the mainmast, no longer supported by its shrouds, fell over the side with a crash.
This vessel had but a hundred prisoners on board. They were wild with astonishment and delight, when they found that their vessel had been recaptured. Francis told them to keep by him through the night, as possibly he might need their assistance.
For some hours the gale increased. The Pluto lay head to it, her mast serving as a floating anchor. As soon as the lights of the Genoese squadron disappeared in the distance, Francis hoisted a lantern on his mainmast, as a signal to the other vessels to keep near him.
As soon as day broke, the galley they had last recaptured was seen, half a mile away, while the two others could be made out some six miles to leeward. The gale died out soon after daybreak, and Francis at once set his crew to work to get the mast on board, and to ship it by its stump.
It was a difficult undertaking, for the vessel was rolling heavily. It was first got alongside, two ropes were passed over it, and it was parbuckled on board. Shears were made of two spars, and the end was placed against the stump, which projected six feet above the deck. By the aid of the shears, it was hoisted erect and lashed to the stump, wedges were driven in to tighten the lashings, and it was then firmly stayed; and by the afternoon it was in readiness for sail to be hoisted again.
By this time Parucchi, with the vessel he had captured, was alongside. The Lion of Saint Mark was hoisted to the mainmast of the Pluto, and three similar banners were run up by the other vessels, the crews shouting and cheering with wild enthusiasm.
Chapter 17: An Ungrateful Republic.
“It is glorious, Francis,” Matteo said, “to think that we should have recaptured four of our ships!”