"The excitement never slackens." —The Sunday Times
"The first and still favourite rival to Hornblower." —Daily Mirror
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Mutiny and rebellion are rife on board a British ship in the Caribbean. A young British naval officer is chosen to rescue the ship from its Spanish captors - yet this means almost certain death. Lord Ramage soon learns that for his mission to succeed - and for him to stay alive - he must resort to almost any means. Will his skill prove a match for the strength of
Mutiny and rebellion are rife on board a British ship in the Caribbean. A young British naval officer is chosen to rescue the ship from its Spanish captors - yet this means almost certain death. Lord Ramage soon learns that for his mission to succeed - and for him to stay alive - he must resort to almost any means. Will his skill prove a match for the strength of the Spanish attack?
"The excitement never slackens." —The Sunday Times
"The first and still favourite rival to Hornblower." —Daily Mirror
THE LITTLE dockyard at English Harbour was already bustling, although the sun was only just lifting over the rounded hills to the east. In the West Indies the day began at dawn so that men could do as much heavy work as possible before the sun began to scorch the energy from their bodies.
Ramage eased himself into the rattan chair on the balcony of the Commander-in-Chief's house, glancing down warily as protesting creaks warned that termites were busily and silently chewing their way through the legs to convert the springy wood into little piles of brown powder.
As he relaxed to wait for the Admiral he guessed that today Captain Ramage was far from popular with the dockyard staff. They were all well paid and provided with comfortable houses, and normally enjoyed a quiet life interrupted only twice or three times a year when a frigate came in for a self-refit, using her own seamen to do the work and relying on the dockyard staff for little more than interference.
Now, however, the master shipwright, master attendant, storekeeper and bosun suddenly found themselves responsible for two former French frigates, seven merchantmen and a schooner, all brought into Antigua as Captain Ramage's prizes.
They had orders from the Admiral to help commission one of the frigates within seven days, while the other — which needed careening for repair to her bottom — had to be ready within three weeks because she was to escort the merchant ships to England. Not only that, but the Admiral was here to make sure the work was completed on time.
Although the Admiral was harrying the dockyard staff without mercy, Ramage had little sympathy for them. They had settled into a way of life where rum was an important part of the day's ritual. While some heathens stopped work at sunrise and sunset and knelt facing the east to say prayers, these dockyard fellows rarely started work but frequently interrupted their leisure to reach for a bottle and top up their glasses.
Ramage had little doubt that a sudden inventory of the dockyard would reveal that they, in combination with the storekeeper, were running a prosperous but illicit business turning the King's stores into ready money, selling rope, sail canvas and paint to merchant ships calling at St John's, the main harbour on the north-western side of Antigua.
Few masters worried about breaking the law and having rope on board that had the "King's Yarn" in it, a coloured thread that showed it had been laid up in one of the Navy's ropewalks and issued only to Navy ships. Most of the rigging in a merchant ship took a coat of Stockholm tar to help preserve it, and that hid the "King's Yarn."
There was corruption in every dockyard and English Harbour was probably no worse than the rest. Because it was small, however, the flaws were more obvious. It comprised only a few stone buildings with grey slate roofs and reminded Ramage of a fifteen-horse stable on the fringe of Newmarket Heath. But what it lacked in size and honesty it made up for in sheer beauty.
It was built at the inner end of a narrow channel which twisted its way like a fjord between ridges of steep hills. The entrance was hard to find and most captains coming in for the first time were thankful for the fortifications on each side, Fort Barclay and the Horseshoe Battery, because the channel did a sharp turn and from seaward there was no hint that ten ships of the line and half a dozen frigates could be safely moored inside, sheltered by the hills from the brisk Trade winds and with cables from their sterns secured to permanent anchors dug in along the beach.
Ramage saw smoke across the channel, beyond the careening wharf, and a few minutes later smelled the sharp tang of hot pitch as seamen stoked up the fire under one of the big cast-iron pitch kettles standing waist-high on a small point, well clear of ships and buildings in case they became overheated and burst into flames. Nearby one of the French frigates, La Comète, was already hove-down at the Carénage Wharf, lying almost on her side like a stranded whale, with several sheets of copper sheathing missing along the rounded turn of the bilge and showing black stripes where carpenters and their mates were perched on a small raft, busy removing damaged planking.
Ramage reflected that barely two weeks ago off Martinique that frigate was doing her best to sink the Juno frigate, which he then commanded. Now she was a prize and instead of being dead or a prisoner he was sitting on the balcony of the Commander-in-Chief's house waiting for orders. These would concern the second French frigate, now anchored farther up the channel in Freeman's Bay. She was the Surcouf, which he had cut out of Fort Royal, and which would be his new command as soon as all the paperwork was completed; one of the fastest and most heavily armed frigates in the Caribbean, and certainly the loveliest: the French had a knack of building graceful ships.
But sitting here now, enjoying the first half an hour's peace and quiet since then, he felt chilled. He had taken terrible risks with his ship and his men, gambling with a recklessness that now appalled him. He had been lucky — the prizes were proof of that — but he had risked lives with less concern than some pallid gambler at Buck's watched a rolling die with a hundred guineas at stake. Had there been an alternative? Yes, if he cared for his men he would not have risked cutting out the Surcouf. Yet those same men would have marked him down as a coward if he had left her alone. Was success a justification?
As he considered the grim contradictions he watched two boats pulling away from the Surcouf. They were laden with casks and bound for Tank Bay at the head of the channel, where there was a fresh-water spring. The frigate's sails were hanging down like enormous creased curtains: old Southwick, her new Master, was seizing the opportunity of airing them before the wind came up, part of the everlasting fight against the mildew that needed only a day or two of hot and humid weather to speckle the cloth with black mould and rot the stitching, however much the thread was waxed.
A whiff of mildew as he moved slightly told him that his steward had not aired the coat he was wearing, but it was pleasant sitting here, breeches newly pressed, silk stockings uncreased, shoes shining, sword scabbard polished ... One thing he missed afloat was sitting comfortably in the fresh air: one was always standing or pacing up and down like an animal in a cage.
The sun was rising quickly now and bringing colour to hills which had been dark with shadow, but all its early pinkness could not disguise the fact that no rain had fallen on Antigua for several weeks. The earth which Nature had spread thinly on the hills was now arid, streaked with brown scars where the coarse grass had withered and grey where jagged rocks jutted out like enormous teeth. This was the time of day, for perhaps five minutes, that always reminded Ramage of a summer sunrise tinting the heather in the Scottish Highlands.
As the sun climbed higher the colours changed, growing harsher. Soon one would notice only the vivid blue of the sky, the hard brown of the hills and the dark green of the mangroves growing in a thick band along the water's edge, the thin red roots twisting like predatory claws. Now the light and shadow caught the cacti scattered over the hills like outrageous artichokes and, every ten yards or so, he could see the single trunk of a century plant sprouting ten or twelve feet high, the yellow blossoms now withering, golden foxgloves past their prime.
Ramage's eye caught the flash of red on Fort Barclay as a sentry turned in the sunlight beside the small stone magazine built on the inland side of the battlements. Now he could see the breeches of the guns gleaming black as the sun lifted the shadows. Twenty-six guns, with a dozen more in the Horseshoe Battery on the other side of the entrance. Ramage wondered if any of them had ever fired against an enemy. It would be a brave Frenchman who tried to force his way in, because there was also the masked battery just at the back of the beach facing the entrance, twenty more guns concealed by sand dunes and shaded by palm trees, poised like a cat waiting in front of a mouse hole in the wainscoting.
At the moment the masked battery covered Admiral Davis's flagship, the 74-gun Invincible, which was lying with her anchors towards the entrance and her stern held by a cable which ran to the beach and was secured to another anchor half buried in the sand, left there permanently for the big ships.
Footsteps behind him brought Ramage to his feet and he turned to find the Admiral and Captain Edwards, who commanded the Invincible, blinking in the sunlight as they came out on to the balcony. The Admiral nodded cheerfully.
"Ha, mornin', Ramage; sittin' here admirin' your prizes, eh? Can't see the cordage for the guineas, no doubt!"
Henry Davis, Rear-Admiral and "Commander-in-Chief of His Majesty's Ships and Vessels upon the Windward and Leeward Islands Station," was in a cheerful mood; a condition which Ramage guessed had been brought about by an equally calculating look at the prizes — and the knowledge that a commander-in-chief took an eighth share in the prize-money. A young captain might find glory in the gunfire, Ramage thought sourly, but all too often promotion depended on his contribution to his admiral's prize account.
The Admiral gestured to Ramage and Captain Edwards to sit down and lowered himself into a rattan chair with the usual care of anyone who had spent much time in the Tropics and knew of the sabotage which termites wreaked. He passed a bundle of papers to Ramage: "The inventory of the Surcouf and the valuation. I'll buy her in, of course. She's three years old, so £14 a ton is a fair price. Seven hundred tons, which means £9800 for hull, masts, yards, rigging and fixed furniture. I think the Admiralty and Navy Board will approve that."
"And the rest of her equipment, sir?" Ramage asked.
"Normal valuation based on prices at Jamaica dockyard," the Admiral said briskly. "That's the valuation in England plus sixty per cent — the price they charge merchant ships." He pointed to the papers he had just given Ramage. "The figure is there — about £7500, I think. A total of just over £17,000 for the whole ship. It'll work out less for La Comète," he added, waving towards the careened frigate. "She's three years older and damaged. Then you have the schooner and the seven merchantmen. A tidy sum for you and your men. The two frigates bring you nearly £10,000, with £5000 shared between the lieutenants, Master and Surgeon ... Why, the seamen will get £50 each — the equivalent of four years' pay!"
"They earned it," Captain Edwards commented. "And that doesn't include the merchant ships and head-money."
"I know they earned it," the Admiral said crossly, "and they'll earn it twice over by the time they've carried out the orders I'm preparing for Ramage. Now," he said impatiently, indicating that the subject of the prize-money was closed, "how long before you'll have that Surcouf commissioned?"
Although Ramage had guessed this was the real reason why he had been ordered to report to the Admiral, it was a difficult question to answer. The Admiral had originally promised to shift the ship's company of his last command, the Juno, to his new one, but the Juno had not yet arrived in English Harbour. No doubt Aitken, the First Lieutenant who had been left in command off Martinique when Ramage transferred to the Surcouf with a prize crew, had a perfectly good reason for the delay in reaching Antigua, but in the meantime Ramage was left with only forty men.
So far he had met with nothing but obstruction from the dockyard's master attendant, bosun and storekeeper — who were probably scared stiff in case this sudden influx of work resulted in demands for stores which would reveal their peculations — but this was usual, not worth even mentioning to the Admiral.
"About a week, once I get all my Junos. That's providing we use the French guns, sir. If we shift them and have to get out all the shot —" he broke off as Admiral Davis waved aside the idea. The two navies used different sized shot, but providing the Surcouf carried enough for her next operation it did not matter.
"Provisions?" demanded the Admiral.
"Three months on the French scale, sir, and three months' water."
"Very well. The Juno should be in within a day or two — I can't think what's delayed that young fellow: hope he's not going to be a disappointment. Anyway, a week from the time she arrives, eh?"
His round face was lined, and the thick black eyebrows which jutted out of his brow like small brushes were drawn down, giving him a quaintly fierce appearance, like a truculent shoe-black. "Now, her name. I don't like Surcouf; no need for us to celebrate a dam' French pirate."
"Calypso!" Ramage was startled to find he had spoken the word aloud and hurriedly added: "Perhaps you would consider renaming her 'Calypso,' sir."
"Sounds all right, but I've forgotten my mythology. What does it mean, eh?"
Captain Edwards stretched out his legs with the air of a man whose subject had just been reached on the agenda. "When Odysseus was wrecked he was cast up on the island of Ogyvia, where Calypso lived. She was a sea nymph, sir. They — er, they lived together for several years, and when Odysseus eventually wanted to leave and go home, she promised him immortality and eternal youth if he stayed."
"But he refused, wise fellow," the Admiral commented. "Can think of nothing worse than living forever. Anyway, that's the woman you had in mind, eh Ramage?"
"Yes, sir —"
"Why?" the Admiral interrupted bluntly. "You seemed to have the name ready on the tip of your tongue."
"No sir, I didn't know you intended renaming her. I was thinking yesterday that the Jocasta frigate was rather like Odysseus, only she's held by the Spanish in a port on the Main —"
"Very fanciful," sniffed Admiral Davis, "but your job will be to get her out."
Edwards grinned. "Zeus ordered Calypso to release Odysseus, sir. Perhaps Ramage had you in mind as Zeus: you give the Calypso frigate orders to release Odysseus — or, rather, the Jocasta frigate."
"It all sounds just as vague and confusin' as Greek mythology always was when I was a boy," the Admiral grumbled, "but the name sounds right enough. Better than that damned French pirate. Very well, Calypso she is."
"Thank you, sir," Ramage said politely, turning slightly so that the sun was not in his eyes. It was getting hot now; the heat was soaking through his coat and he had tied his stock too tight: his neck would be raw in places before he could leave the Admiral's house and loosen it.
Admiral Davis was frowning at the back of his sleeve, as though suspicious that the gold braid and lace was really pinchbeck. He seemed almost embarrassed. But Ramage knew that admirals were never embarrassed by anything they had to say to a junior post captain — in his own case one of the most junior in the Navy List. When he left England a few months ago his name had been the last on the List. Since then perhaps a dozen more lieutenants had been made post and their names would now follow his. Promotion was by seniority, which meant being pushed up from below, helped by a high mortality among the names above you on the List: there was nothing like a bloody war to hoist you up the ladder.
Yet Ramage could see that the Admiral was certainly at a loss for words. He now inspected the nails of his left hand, tugged at his chin and finally gestured angrily at his burly flag captain. Edwards had obviously anticipated that this would happen, and he turned to Ramage. "The Jocasta," he said. "You know how she fell into Spanish hands?"
"I've heard only gossip," Ramage said carefully, guessing this would be his only opportunity of finding out what really happened and realizing that the Admiral could hardly bear to talk about it.
Captain Edwards caught the Admiral's eye, noted the approving nod, and said: "She left Cape Nicolas Mole — that's at the western end of Hispaniola, as you probably know — some two years ago. Captain Wallis commanded her and had orders from Sir Hyde Parker at Jamaica to patrol the Mona Passage for seven weeks with the Alert and Reliance in company.
Excerpted from Ramage's Mutiny by Dudley Pope. Copyright © 1977 Dudley Pope. Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press, Inc..
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Dudley Bernard Egerton Pope was born in 1925 into an ancient Cornish seafaring family. He joined the Merchant Navy at the age of sixteen and spent much of his early life at sea. He was torpedoed during the Second World War and resulting spinal injuries plagued him for the rest of his life.
Towards the end of the war Pope turned to journalism, becoming the Naval and Defence Correspondent for the 'London Evening News'. At this time he also researched naval history and in time became an authority on the Napoleonic era and Nelson's exploits, resulting in several well received volumes, especially on the Battles of Copenhagen and Trafalgar.
Encouraged by Hornblower creator CS Forester, he also began writing fiction using his own experiences in the Navy and his extensive historical research as a basis. In 1965, he wrote 'Ramage', the first of his highly successful series of novels following the exploits of the heroic 'Lord Nicholas Ramage' during the Napoleonic Wars. Another renowned series is centred on 'Ned Yorke', a buccaneer in the seventeenth century Caribbean and then with a descendant following the 'Yorke' family naval tradition when involved in realistic secret operations during the Second World War.
Dudley Pope lived aboard boats whenever possible, along with his wife and daughter, and this was where he wrote the majority of his novels. Most of his adult life was spent in the Caribbean and in addition to using the locale for fictional settings he also wrote authoritatively on naval history of the region, including a biography of the buccaneer Sir Henry Morgan. He died in 1997 aged seventy one.
'The first and still favourite rival to Hornblower' - Daily Mirror
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