Ramage & the Renegades

Ramage & the Renegades by Dudley Pope

Book: Ramage & the Renegades by Dudley Pope Read Free Book Online
Authors: Dudley Pope
and the French and the Dutch and the Spanish and the Danes. They’ve been collecting musket balls and round shot and yellow fever and scurvy; you’ve been collecting tainted guineas to buy yourself a house, a wife and four children. Do you understand the two different kinds of life?”
    The eyes and the tone made Porter agree at once.
    â€œGood, Porter, so we understand each other. Now, I am going to tell you a story. The companion-way down to the gunroom comprises ten steps. A man tripped at the top and fell down them once. He was picked up dead. The parish—he was a dockyard man—had to bury him. It’s surprising how these sort of accidents happen. A chisel slips and cuts a vein and in a trice a man bleeds to death; someone else slips on one of the side battens and falls into the boat and breaks his neck across a thwart. A third has his skull split as he walks along the deck and a double block falls on him from an upper yard. Indeed, Porter, as the chaplains tell us, ‘In the midst of life, we are in death.’”
    â€œYes, sir,” Porter managed to whisper.
    â€œI called you here to give you some information, Porter. We have seven extra people joining the ship on Thursday; we sail on Friday. We need seven extra cabins ready by Thursday.”
    â€œYes, sir.”
    â€œYou are a conscientious man, I know. Do I have your assurance that the seven cabins will be ready in time, doors hung and glazed with stone-ground glass, and everything painted?”
    â€œYes, sir,” Porter said, at last coming to life. “Oh, easily by Thursday, sir.”
    â€œVery well, thank you. You may go.”
    After the man shambled out, Southwick said: “You’d never have done it. Rossi, Stafford, Jackson—yes, any of them would have given him a push at a word from you. But I can’t see you giving the word.”
    Ramage grinned, his eyes now warm, the hard line gone from his lips. He looked at the man who was old enough to be his father and who had served as Master in every ship Ramage had commanded, from the earliest day when as a lieutenant he had commanded the little
Kathleen
cutter.
    â€œIt doesn’t matter what
you
think, does it? Porter is convinced I can, so the cabins will be ready and we’ll be off Black Stakes on Friday, taking on powder.”
    All ships, naval and mercantile, coming to London or the Medway had to unload their gunpowder into barges moored at Black Stakes, at the entrance to the Thames. The risk of fire and a ship exploding in the London docks or close to one of the Medway towns was too great to allow any exceptions. It delayed a ship, but many an officer late back from leave was glad to hire a cutter at London Bridge and be put on board at Black Stakes.
    â€œIs it true we’re getting a chaplain, sir?”
    Ramage had mentioned it to the First Lieutenant because Aitken, a Highlander, would not welcome what undoubtedly would be to him a High Church minister. The Low Church First Lieutenant and the free-thinking Master must have been discussing it.
    â€œYes. Someone has applied.” It was a convenient way of telling the officers (which meant the ship’s company would know soon enough) that he had not asked for a chaplain; everyone knew the regulations.
    â€œI’ve never met one yet that was worth the room to sling a hammock.”
    â€œPerhaps not, but let’s hope he plays chess.”
    Southwick chuckled and reached for his hat. A long time ago, he and Mr Ramage had joined the
Triton
brig at Portsmouth to find that the ship’s surgeon was a drunkard; a very skilful doctor who had practised in Wimpole Street until his heavy drinking drove his patients away, and the Navy had offered him the only way of earning a living from medicine. Mr Ramage had other ideas: no drunkard would be allowed to treat his men, but he had neither the time nor the influence to have the man changed. Being Mr Ramage, Southwick reflected,

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