The Spanish bowman was about to hook on when Stephen, speaking a Scandinavian but instantly comprehensible Spanish, called out, ‘Have you a surgeon that understands the plague aboard your ship?’
The bowman lowered his hook. The officer said, ‘Why?’
‘Some of our men were taken poorly at Algiers, and we are afraid. We cannot tell what it is.’
‘Back water,’ said the Spanish officer to his men. ‘Where did you say you had touched?’
‘Algiers, Alger, Argel: it was there the men went ashore. Pray what is the plague like? Swellings? Buboes? Will you come and look at them? Pray, sir, take this rope.’
‘Back water,’ said the officer again. ‘And they went ashore at Algiers?’
‘Yes. Will you send your surgeon?’
‘No. Poor people, God and His Mother preserve you.’
‘May we come for medicines? Pray let me come into your boat.’
‘No,’ said the officer, crossing himself. ‘No, no. Keep off, or we shall fire into you. Keep out to sea — the sea will cure them. God be with you, poor people. And a happy voyage to you.’ He could be seen ordering the bowman to throw the boathook into the sea, and the launch pulled back fast to the bright-red xebec.
They were within very easy hailing distance now, and a voice from the frigate called out some words in Danish; Pram replied; and then a tall thin figure on the quarter-deck, obviously the captain, asked, had they seen an English sloop-of-war, a brig?
‘No,’ they said; and as the vessels began to draw away from one another Jack whispered, ‘Ask her name.’
‘Cacafuego,’ came the answer over the widening lane of sea. ‘A happy voyage.’
‘A happy voyage to you.’