I've been able to give you only ten minutes, but have you made up your mind?'

The Scots first lieutenant nodded. 'Aye, sir, and don't think I'm not grateful for the offer to command her, but if it's all the same, I'd sooner stay with you in the Calypso and perhaps you'd agree to Wagstaffe taking the other frigate, this Tortue, to Gibraltar. It might lead to him being made post.'

'You'd definitely be made post,' Ramage said. 'I'm sure the admiral will buy her in and give you the command.'

'Aye, sir, I know; but there'll be more chances for me later, but maybe not such a good one for Wagstaffe. And to be honest, sir, I'm enjoying this cruise; it seems - if you'll pardon the familiarity - to have the Ramage touch.'

Ramage was startled to hear a phrase in English which he had heard in French not half an hour earlier from another man sitting in the same chair.

'Very, well, I appreciate it. You'd better warn Orsini and his scoundrels that they've got to beat us to Porto Ercole with this despatch. They can sail as soon as I've written orders for Wagstaffe. In this light wind that xebec will beat us there by hours . . .'

'Aye, sir, and if the lads know what the orders are then the Tortue will be out of sight over the western horizon long before we get there. Should Martin take over command of the Brutus, sir? Perhaps Orsini could have the Fructidor... we're very short of officers ...'

He was just getting up to leave the cabin when Ramage motioned him to stay. 'Pass the word for Renwick to bring the French admiral and that other officer to this cabin.'

While the first lieutenant gave the order, Ramage took the admiral's sword from the locker in which Silkin had stowed it, and gave the scabbard a wipe with the corner of a curtain.

Within a few minutes he would return the sword to Poitier. In fact, Ramage thought sourly, Poitier has not done much to deserve it, but it was very important that the French government had no hint that the British knew of Bonaparte's plans for Egypt, because cancelled plans could be brought into use again. The formal return of his surrendered sword, the warrior's age-old tribute to a gallant but vanquished foe, would be reported back to the Minister of Marine in Paris as soon as Poitier and the other prisoners were landed under a flag of truce in Porto Ercole. This would indicate that the British considered that Poitier had fought a brave fight. There would be no gossip about papers not destroyed - only two living men knew about them. Ramage went to a drawer in his desk, took out the lead-weighted box with its smashed lid, and went out to the quarter gallery. He dropped it over the side. The letters would have sunk long ago.

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