In Gallant Company (Richard Bolitho Novels, No. 3) (The Bolitho Novels) (Volume 3)
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‘Belay that! Wait for the word!’ The Revenge’s captain called, ‘We’ll heave to. I’ll be over to you as soon as –’ He got no further. Like some terrifying creature emerging from a tomb, Captain Jonas Tracy lurched through the fore-hatch, his eyes bulging from his head with agony and fury. He carried a pistol which he fired at a seaman who ran to restrain him, the ball smashing the man in the forehead and hurling him on his back in a welter of blood. And all the time he was bellowing, his voice
might take some of the fat off him.’ But he had not smiled, and Bolitho had guessed that he had wished he and not the major was to command. Once their mission was out in the open the ship’s company got down to work and preparation with the usual mixture of attitudes. Grim resignation for those who would be taking part, cheerful optimism from those who would not. At the chosen time the work of ferrying the marines and seamen to the little sloop-of-war was begun without delay. After the blazing
‘If I have to face another hand-to-hand, I think I shall break.’ ‘Easy, man. Don’t start meeting trouble before you must.’ He knew exactly how Quinn felt. As he had done after being wounded. It was worse for Quinn. He had not been in action before that last time. Quinn did not seem to hear. ‘I think of Sparke a lot. How he used to rant and rave. I never really liked him, but I admired his courage, his, his,’ he groped for words, ‘his style.’ Bolitho reached out to steady a seaman as he
mind. Had the seamen’s weapons been checked to make sure that some nervous soul had not loaded his pistol despite the threats of what would happen to him? Had Couzens impressed on them the vital importance of silence from now on? But it was too late now. He had to trust every man jack of them. Bolitho could sense them at his back, crouching in their unfamiliar surroundings, gripping their weapons, worrying. At least there was no moon, but against that, the wind had dropped away, and the slow,
slammed into it. It was as if the dead were returning to life to witness their last madness. The crash of the explosion as the slow-match found its mark, and the whole double-shotted charge swept through the packed ranks of attackers, seemed to bring some small control to Quinn’s cringing mind. He groped for the finely made hanger, his eyes streaming, his ears deafened by that final explosion. All he could say was, ‘Thank you, Rowhurst! Thank you!’ But Rowhurst had been right about one thing.