Ramage & the Didoby Dudley Pope
Ramage hopes to enjoy a well-deserved leave when he receives new orders: commission and take command of the Didoa massive 74-gun ship, that carries enough weight of metal to destroy a frigate in a single broadside, or sweep a ship's decks clear of men. Accompanied by the courageous crew of the Calypso, Ramage ventures to sea once againbound for the… See more details below
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Ramage hopes to enjoy a well-deserved leave when he receives new orders: commission and take command of the Didoa massive 74-gun ship, that carries enough weight of metal to destroy a frigate in a single broadside, or sweep a ship's decks clear of men. Accompanied by the courageous crew of the Calypso, Ramage ventures to sea once againbound for the West Indies where he faces the challenge of commanding this massive weapon of war.
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Ramage & the Dido
The Lord Ramage Novels, No. 18
By Dudley Pope
McBooks Press, Inc.Copyright © 1989 Dudley Pope
All rights reserved.
Ramage folded the Morning Post and sat back comfortably. There was very little news in the paper, and he passed it to Sarah, who was an avid newspaper reader and had already finished The Times and sniffed at the lack of anything of interest.
He had another five days' leave; time enough to go down to Aldington and have a look at the Kent countryside, apart from reassuring himself that all was well with the house, although Sarah had been staying there most of the time he was away in the Mediterranean, only coming up to London in a hurry when she heard that he had arrived back in Portsmouth.
His parents' home in Palace Street was a serviceable halfway house for both of them. It was also conveniently near the Admiralty and even nearer the House of Lords, so that his father, the Earl of Blazey, could attend debates whenever he wished.
Ramage was vaguely aware of a horse pulling up outside the front door, although the sound of passing horses clopping their way along Palace Street was nothing out of the ordinary, but a few minutes later the old butler, Hanson, appeared at the door, his spectacles sliding down his nose as usual.
"An Admiralty messenger, my lord: he has a letter for you and needs you to sign a receipt."
Ramage nodded and went to the front door, signing the proffered receipt book and taking the letter. It felt strange, heavy and stiff, as though the paper with its heavy seal enclosed a sheet of parchment. He shrugged his shoulders as he walked back to the breakfast room to rejoin Sarah, who looked up inquiringly.
"Probably fresh orders," he said and, noting the alarmed look on Sarah's face, added: "I doubt if they're urgent; Their Lordships know I haven't had much leave in the past few years."
Sarah walked over to the desk and came back with a paper-knife. "Break the seal and put a stop to the suspense," she said. "I couldn't bear it if you have to go away again so soon."
Ramage was reluctant to hurry: the sheer weight of the packet did not bode well. Routine letters were not written in parchment, and this packet crackled when he squeezed it. He took the paper-knife and pried open the outer seal, and the folded paper opened by itself to reveal a parchment commission inside. He recognized it immediately — but a commission? What was happening to the Calypso frigate, which he had commanded for the past few years? She was even now waiting for him down at Portsmouth, under the temporary command of her first lieutenant, James Aitken.
But there was no mistaking the document: there was the Admiralty Office seal at the top left-hand corner, red wax with white paper on top; the blue stamp duty seal below it, with "11 shillings and 10 pence" and a crown; and three signatures beneath the verbiage in the middle. Yes, it was a commission right enough, but sending him where, and in what ship?
He began reading, starting with the first few lines at the top. "By the Commission for Executing the Office of Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, &c."
Then came the main section of the commission: "By virtue of the Power and Authority to us given, We do hereby appoint you Captain of his Majesty's ship the Dido, willing and requiring you forthwith to go on board and take upon you the charge and command of captain in her accordingly: strictly Charging and Commanding all the Officers and Company of the said ship to behave themselves jointly and severally in their respective employments ... Hereof nor you nor any of you may fail as you will answer to the Contrary at your Peril ..."
It ended with "By command of Their Lordships" and the signature of Evan Nepean, the secretary to the Board, on the left, and the signatures of three Board members on the right.
The Dido? But wasn't she a 74? He had a fleeting picture in his mind of seeing her in Gibraltar some time ago. Command of a 74!
"Why are you grinning?" Sarah asked quietly, obviously fearing the worst.
"I think I've just been given command of a 74," he said. "Let me find a copy of Steel's List and check the name."
His father's copy of Steel's Original and Correct List of the Royal Navy was on the desk, a thin grey-covered volume. He flipped through the pages until he came to the one headed "A Complete List of the Royal Navy," where all the ships, from the 112-gun Salvador del Mundo to hired armed cutters and luggers, were named alphabetically. Yes, there was the Dido, at present in Portsmouth and built in 1798. She had been paid off, and obviously he would have to commission her.
He felt a sudden nostalgia for the Calypso. And what was going to happen to all the officers and men with whom he had sailed for so long? He would be lost without the old master, Southwick, who had served with him since he had been given his first command as a callow lieutenant in the Mediterranean so many years ago. And the Scot, Aitken, who had once refused a command to continue serving with him. And "Blower" Martin, the junior lieutenant with his flute. And seamen like Jackson, Stafford, and Rossi. Thinking of them took the shine off the new appointment.
"This is a big promotion," Sarah said. "Your father will be pleased. Getting command of a second rate at your age ..."
"Third rate," Ramage corrected. "It'll be a few more years before I get the chance of a second rate."
Sarah shrugged her shoulders. "I never did understand 'rates,'" she admitted.
"It's just a matter of the number of guns a ship carries. A first rate has 100 guns or more, a second rate between 98 and 90, a third rate from 80 to 64. ... The Calypso is a fifth rate with 32 guns, and last of all comes a sixth rate, between 30 and 20 guns."
Again Sarah looked puzzled. "I know this is a dreadful thing for the wife of a post captain to admit, but the number of guns does not mean very much. How big is the ship? How many men does she carry?"
"Well, 74s vary slightly — the later ones are larger — but the Dido is probably about one hundred and seventy feet long on the gun-deck, has a ship's company of about six hundred, and is around one thousand seven hundred tons — more when she is provisioned for six months, of course. Now can you picture her better?"
"Not really. Will I be allowed on board to visit you?"
"Of course. You'll have to come down to Portsmouth — but there'll be plenty of time: I've got to commission the ship."
At that moment Ramage's father came into the room and wished them both a cheerful good morning. Almost immediately he saw the commission lying on the table, along with a copy of Steel's List, and recognizing both he looked questioningly at his son. "You've heard from the Admiralty?"
"Yes, Their Lordships have given me a new ship."
"Oh. You'll be sorry to leave the Calypso — she's become a second home!"
"Yes — but they've given me a 74."
"Ha, at last Their Lordships have woken up to your worth! It was probably that last cruise in the Mediterranean that did it. After all, they gave you a whole Gazette to yourself for winkling out those Saracens. What ship?"
"The Dido. I have to commission her at Portsmouth."
"Dido? She's only seven or eight years old — I remember her being launched at Bursledon. Well, having to commission her is as good a way as any of getting to know your way round a twod-ecker. You'll be at the mercy of your first lieutenant and master — d'you know who they'll be?"
Ramage shook his head. "All I have at the moment is the commission. I found out she was at Portsmouth from Steel. I don't know whether commissioning just means assembling the ship's company and provisioning, or getting the masts in and rigging her."
The earl smoothed down his white hair and held out his hand. "Well, whatever it is, congratulations. It won't be long before they give you a second rate. Then you'll get your flag!"
Ramage shook his hand and both men sat down again. The earl looked round at Sarah. "Well, my dear, so it is good-bye to frigates. What's it feel like now, being married to a man who is going to command a ship of the line?"
"He'll miss all the men on board the Calypso," Sarah said. "It seems a pity that the captain has to start all over again when he changes ships."
"Yes, it is a big change," the earl agreed. "Six hundred or so men instead of a couple of hundred. A really big ship to handle."
Sarah held up her hands apologetically. "Nicholas has just explained to me what a 'rate' is. But tell me, what is the difference between a frigate and a ship of the line, apart from its size and the number of men?"
"Its job, mainly," the earl said. "A frigate is a scout — it acts as the admiral's eyes when working with a fleet, or it does all those jobs that Nicholas has been doing for the past few years. But a ship of the line is just that — a ship that forms part of the line of battle when the fleet is in action. At Trafalgar, the frigates were supposed to stay out of the fight and repeat signals — the classic task for a frigate in battle, not getting involved in the shooting. Nicholas, of course, had to break the rules and get himself into the action, but normally the line of battle will be formed with ships of 74 guns or more. There are still a few 64s around, but they are being replaced because they are not powerful enough to stand in the line of battle."
"So if Nicholas had been given the Dido in time, he could have been in the line of battle at Trafalgar?" Sarah asked.
"Yes. Being him, he made up for it with the Calypso, but if there is another Trafalgar and Nicholas is part of the fleet concerned, yes, he will be in the line of battle."
"It sounds a dangerous job."
The earl laughed. "No, on the contrary. A captain stands much more chance of being killed in a frigate action than the captain of a ship of the line in a battle like Trafalgar. Just think of the numbers — on board a frigate he is one of a couple of hundred; in a ship of the line he is one of six hundred or so."
"Lord Nelson was killed," Sarah pointed out.
"Yes," the earl agreed soberly, "but he would insist on wearing all his orders and decorations. He was an obvious target for French sharpshooters. Captain Hardy, who was walking the deck with him, was not scratched."
"But Nicholas has been wounded so many times: it doesn't seem fair!"
Ramage said lightly: "The important thing is that I've survived!"
"Does being given a ship of the line mean you won't be away for such long periods?" Sarah asked.
"Probably. Ships of the line are usually attached to fleets, and fleets are not usually at sea for such long periods. Unless I get put on the blockade of Brest — blockade work usually means being at sea for a long time. Still, we don't keep such a close blockade now ..."
Hanson came into the room again and said apologetically: "There's another messenger from the Admiralty, sir: it is a question of you signing the man's receipt book."
Impatiently Ramage got up from the table and went to the front door. He came back with the letter, picked up the paper-knife and slid it under the seal. "Their Lordships are keeping the clerks busy this morning," he commented. "They'd save on messengers if they wrote letters at the same time as they wrote commissions."
"Well, what does it say?" demanded Sarah. "They may have changed their minds about giving you the Dido."
Ramage unfolded the sheet of paper and began to read. Sarah was watching his face and was surprised to see a look of pleasure. The trouble was, she knew, that at the moment Nicholas was more absorbed in his new command than in the fact that his leave was likely to be cut short.
"I've never heard of that before," Ramage commented, passing the letter to his father. He turned to Sarah and shook his head disbelievingly.
"I'm not saying good-bye to the Calypsos after all. She is going to be paid off in Portsmouth before a thorough refit, and orders are being sent to Aitken to take all the officers and ship's company to the Dido. Nepean says that Their Lordships have decided that in recognition of their past services, the commission, warrant, and petty officers are transferred to the Dido without change in rank. So Aitken is my first lieutenant and I have Southwick as master!"
"Does that mean you still have Jackson and Stafford and Rossi, and the Frenchmen?"
"All of them," Ramage said jubilantly. Then his face fell. "It means I still have that damned gunner, too. Well, this time I am going to the Board of Ordnance to have him replaced. We could get by when he was responsible for only 32 guns, but now we shall have 74, plus 8 or a dozen carronades, and that is too many for that fool!"
"Eight or a dozen carronades? I don't understand," Sarah said. "I thought you said you have 74 guns."
"I have," Ramage explained patiently, "but carronades are extra. For some reason I've never understood, carronades aren't included in the total number of guns a ship carries. It doesn't matter if she's a frigate or a first rate. Carronades are a sort of bonus."
Sarah shrugged her shoulders. "It doesn't make sense — after all, a gun is a gun — it can kill people, even if it is a carronade."
"I agree, darling, but even Father can't explain the quirks of the Admiralty. Anyway, the main thing is that I've got my Calypsos."
"Their Lordships are being very kind to you," the earl said, folding the letter. "I hope you realize that they're granting you an extreme favour. I've never heard of a similar case."
"Nicholas deserves it," Sarah said defensively. "He's been in so many actions, and he's only just been given a 74."
"Whoa," Ramage exclaimed with a grin, "I am still very young to get a 74. You talk as if I'm an old man. I think I am still younger than Lord Nelson was when he was given his first third rate. Anyway, she was a 64, the Agamemnon."
"I don't care," Sarah said obstinately, "you're only getting what you've long deserved. And it's only right that you take the Calypsos with you."
"He still has to find another four hundred or so men," the earl pointed out. "I don't know what the Dido's complement is, but he only has 225 men in the Calypso, and the Dido will be nearer 625. You're going to have a lot of pressed men to lick into shape!"
"Yes," Ramage agreed, "but it's always easier when you have a nucleus of good men to start with."
"Remember Falstaff's words," the earl reminded him. "Although they were pressed for the army, remember that he had 'revolted tapsters, and ostlers trade-fall'n; the cankers of a calm world and a long peace.' Remember, too, that he said that 'A mad fellow met me on the way, and told me I had unloaded all the gibbets, and press'd the dead bodies ...'"
Ramage laughed because the quotation, from Henry IV, was one of his favourites. "Still, when they hear how much my fellows have made from prize-money, I expect I'll get a few volunteers."
The earl nodded in agreement. "Mind you, you probably won't get as much with a 74 as you did with a frigate. By the way, that master of yours — Southwick, isn't it? — should be a wealthy man by now. He's been with you ever since you got your first command, the Kathleen cutter."
"Yes, he could retire and be comfortably off. I mentioned it to him once and got a very short answer — he's happy at sea with me. Interesting to guess what he might have done if he had not been transferred to the Dido."
"Retired, I expect. A man like him doesn't want to start having to learn new tricks with a fresh captain — not after so many years with you. Anyway, he must be well into his sixties by now."
"About sixty-five, but he runs around like a young boy."
"How's young Paolo, by the way?"
"You wouldn't recognize him, he's grown so much. More like a junior lieutenant than a young midshipman. He was very excited to have his aunt on board when we came back from Naples."
"From what Gianna said, most of the ship's company were very excited at seeing her. The marchesa was certainly popular!"
"You and Mother don't mind her staying here?"
"Of course not. Anyway, she prefers it when we are down at St Kew — I think the Cornish landscape reminds her of Volterra — Tuscany, anyway. She has plenty of friends now — and I hope she's enjoying her visit to Shropshire at the moment."
Excerpted from Ramage & the Dido by Dudley Pope. Copyright © 1989 Dudley Pope. Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Dudley Pope, a naval defense correspondent of the London Evening News, progressed to writing carefully researched naval history. C.S. Forester urged Pope to try his hand at fiction and saw the younger writer as his literary heir. Pope began what was to become an impressive series with Ramage (1965) and, over the next 24 years, produced 17 more novels tracing Lord Ramage's career. Pope died in 1997.
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