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Authors: Kaye Dacus

Ransome's Crossing

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Ransome’s Crossing
KAYE DACUS

HARVEST HOUSE PUBLISHERS

EIGENE, OREGON

Scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version of the Bible.

The author is represented by MacGregor Literary.

Cover by Left Coast Design, Portland, Oregon

Cover photos
©
Richard Jenkins; iStockphoto

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to events or locales, is entirely coincidental.

RANSOME’S CROSSING
Copyright © 2010 by Kaye Dacus
Published by Harvest House Publishers
Eugene, Oregon 97402
www.harvesthousepublishers.com

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Dacus, Kaye, 1971-

Ransome’s crossing / Kaye Dacus.

p. cm.—(The Ransome trilogy ; bk. 2)

ISBN 978-0-7369-2754-3 (pbk.)

1. Ship captains—Fiction. 2. Single women—Fiction. 3. Married people—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3604.A25R355 2010

813’.6—dc22

2009052333

All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, digital, photocopy, recording, or any other—except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without the prior permission of the publisher.

Printed in the United States of America

10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  / DP-SK /  10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1

For Paul M.,
to whom I owe William Ransome’s existence.

The Possible’s slow fuse is lit
By the Imagination.

E
MILY
D
ICKINSON

HMS
Alexandra

Commodore William Ransome

First Lieutenant Ned Cochrane

Second Lieutenant Patrick O’Rourke

Third Lieutenant Angus Campbell

Fourth Lieutenant Horatio Eastwick

Fifth Lieutenant Eamon “Jack” Jackson

Sixth Lieutenant Robert Blakeley

Midshipman Josiah Gibson

Midshipman Walter Kennedy

Midshipman Christopher Oldroyd

Steward Archibald Dawling

Boatswain (Bosun) Matthews

Surgeon James Hawthorne

Sailing Master Ingleby

Purser Holt

HMS
Audacious

Captain Alban Parker

First Lieutenant Montgomery Howe

Second Lieutenant Griffith Crump

Third Lieutenant Lewis Gardiner

Fourth Lieutenant Millington Wallis

Fifth Lieutenant Richard Duncan

Midshipman Thomas Hamilton

Midshipman Cornelius Martin

Midshipman Harry Kent

Midshipman Louis Jamison

Midshipman Charles Lott

Midshipman Isaac McLellan

Master Carpenter Colberson

Boatswain (Bosun) Parr

Sailing Master Bolger

Purser Harley

Captain of Marines Macarthy

Gateacre, England
April 1803

A
scream of agony bubbled up in Charlotte’s chest, but she stopped it before it could escape.

“The shoulder is reset.” The physician poked and prodded more, sending bolts of pain and waves of nausea through her body. But Charlotte managed to hold all at bay—except the two tears that escaped the corners of her eyes and ran down into her hair.

“So long as there is no injury to the spine, the child should recover full use of the arm. But it should be bound for two weeks, and she should be made to rest as much as possible.”

“Thank you.” Her brother William’s voice sounded harsh and gruff. He’d been different since returning from Portsmouth six months ago—he no longer laughed, told stories, or drew pictures of fascinating sea creatures for her.

She kept her undamaged arm over her eyes as the doctor bound her left arm in a sling. Some of the pain was gone, but she couldn’t bring herself to look at her oldest brother.

William thanked the doctor again. “That will be all.”

She heard the clink of coins and then retreating footsteps. She risked a peek under her arm. William stood beside her bed, arms crossed.

“Tell me exactly how you came to fall off a rotted rope ladder ten feet from the ground.” Though soft, his voice carried such a tone of command that Charlotte cringed.

“Philip told me he did not think I could climb it. I told him I could—that I’ve been climbing it every day to practice for when I join the navy.”

William turned his back on her and stalked to the window. After a long pause, he returned to tower over her bedside. “I shall speak with Philip later, but I cannot believe the unladylike manner in which you have behaved. You know better than anyone that girls cannot join the Royal Navy.”

Charlotte struggled to sit up. “But, William, I know everything—the flags, the ropes, the bells. I’ve been practicing climbing the rope ladder to Philip and James’s old tree fort so I can be ready to climb the shrouds to the mast tops.”

An odd expression flickered across her brother’s countenance, and for a moment she hoped he might relent.

“It matters not what you know or what you can do. Females are not allowed to join the navy.” He sighed and rubbed his hand over his eyes. “Charlotte, you are almost seven years old. It is past time for you to stop pretending that you are a boy and start acting like a young lady. You will not be climbing shrouds to the top of any mast on any ship. You will stay here in Gateacre, attend to your schooling, and grow up to be a proper lady. Do you understand me?”

He never raised his voice, but her ears pounded as if he’d yelled the words at her. She clamped her teeth down on her bottom lip to keep it from trembling. How could he be such a mean…ogre? She wanted nothing more than to follow in her father’s and brothers’ footsteps.

“I’m waiting for an answer, Charlotte.”

“Yes. I understand.”

“Good.” He nodded curtly. “Now, you are to rest until dinner.” He left her room, shutting the door behind him.

Charlotte stuck her tongue out at the closed door and lay back down. She’d show them—all of them—that if she wanted to join the navy, no one would stop her.

Portsmouth, England
August 17, 1814

N
ed Cochrane, first lieutenant, HMS
Alexandra,
stepped out of the jolly boat onto the stone dock and glanced around at the early morning bustle of the dockyard crew. Only nine days remained to fill the crew roster and fit out the ship with the supplies needed for the first leg of a transatlantic voyage. With yesterday lost in celebrating Captain—no,
Commodore
Ransome’s wedding—and since the commodore’s attention would be necessarily split between distractions on land and his duties to his ship, Ned would shoulder the burden of preparing the ship and crew.

“Sir, look out! Lieutenant Cochrane!”

Ned spun—and fell back just in time to save himself from being swept off the quay by a net full of barrels swinging at the end of a crane. His hat wasn’t so fortunate.

The cargo swayed menacingly overhead. Ned scrambled backward, out of harm’s way. Once clear, he leapt to his feet. “You, there! Watch what you’re about. Secure that crane,” he yelled at the negligent dock crew.

“Are you all right, sir?”

The voice—an odd timbre in the chorus of tenor, baritone, and bass tones usually heard in the dockyard—matched the one which had called the warning. He turned.

A young man, not really more than a boy in a worn, ill-fitting
midshipman’s uniform, stood holding Ned’s dripping hat. Sure enough, the lad’s right sleeve was wet to the shoulder.

“Nothing injured but my pride.” Ned took his hat and studied the midshipman. The boy’s tall, round hat concealed most of his dark hair, but…Ned squinted against the bright glare of the sun off the water and surrounding gray stone. “Do I know you, lad?”

The boy touched the brim of the shabby hat. “Charles Lott, sir. We spoke last week. You said there might be a place for me aboard your ship.”

“Ah, yes.” Ned now recalled meeting the midshipman, who’d answered Ned’s questions when the boy had first approached him about a position aboard
Alexandra
last week, even the question Ned had missed the first time he’d stood for his lieutenancy examination. “I’m sorry, but we have filled the positions on
Alexandra.”

Shocked disappointment filled the boy’s elfin face.

“However, I have recommended you to the captain of
Audacious.”
Ned struggled to keep the smile from his face.

“Audacious?
Captain Yates, then?”

Ned sighed. He liked Commodore Ransome’s friend extraordinarily and had looked forward to the fun to be had on Jamaica station with two such commanders. “Alas, I am afraid to say Captain Yates has resigned his commission. Captain Parker is taking command of
Audacious.”
Ned glanced around the quay. “There is his first officer. Come, I shall introduce you.”

“Thank you, sir.” Midshipman Lott straightened the white collar and cuffs of his too-large coat.

Ned caught his counterpart’s attention and met him near the steps to the upper rampart. He made the introduction and stood back as the first lieutenant of
Audacious,
Montgomery Howe, put a series of questions to the lad. Lott answered each quickly and with near text-book precision.

“Well done, Mr. Lott. You are ordered to present yourself day after tomorrow to begin your official duties.”

The boy’s face paled. “Sir, may I have until next Thursday?”

“The day before we sail?” Howe crossed his arms and glared at Ned and then at Lott.

Ned ground his teeth at the boy’s impertinence, which was casting him—Ned—in a bad light. He’d recommended the lad, after all.

“Yes, sir. I am aware it is an inconvenience, but my mother is a widow, and I must see that she is settled—that our business affairs are settled—before I could leave on such a long journey.”

“And it will take a sennight?” Ned asked.

“We live in the north part of the country, sir. ’Tis a three days’ journey by post, sir.” Lott spoke to the cobblestones below his feet.

Aye, well should he be ashamed to make such a request…though many years ago, a newly made captain had let a newly made lieutenant have four days to see to his own widowed mother and sister.

Apparently, from the expression that flickered across Howe’s face, he had also received a similar mercy some time earlier in his career. “Very well, then. You are to present yourself to me on deck of
Audacious
no later than seven bells in the morning watch Thursday next. If you are late, your spot will be given to someone else. Understand?”

“Aye, sir!” Lott touched the brim of his hat again. “Thank you, sir.”

“Dismissed—oh, and Mr. Lott?”

The boy, a few paces away already, halted and turned, at attention again. “Aye, sir?”

“Make yourself more presentable by next week if you can. You can find plenty of secondhand uniforms available in the shops in much better condition than yours. And get a haircut. I do not allow midshipmen to tuck their hair under their collars.”

Lott’s hand flew to the back of his neck, eyes wide. “Aye, aye, sir.”

“Dismissed.”

Ned moved to stand beside Howe as the boy ran down the quay. “Sorry for the inconvenience, Monty, but I have a feeling that boy will do well by you.”

“I’ve never heard a lad recite the answers so perfectly. He’s slight. Says he’s fifteen? Can’t be more than thirteen or fourteen.”

“Some boys don’t mature as quickly as others. You should remember
that quite well.” Ned bumped his shoulder against his former berth mate’s.

Howe shoved him back. “Just because you gained height and a deeper voice before I did doesn’t mean you matured faster, Ned. In fact, you could probably learn manners in decorum and respect from little Charlie Lott.”

Ned guffawed and bade his friend farewell. He wasn’t certain if he could learn anything from the young midshipman, but he would certainly look out for him and do whatever he could to promote the boy’s interest. He had the feeling Charles Lott would make a good officer some day.

Charlotte Ransome dived behind a large shrub and held her breath. Footsteps crunched on the gravel garden path, coming toward her closer and closer.

Had he seen her?

Keep walking. Please, Lord, let him keep walking.

When he reached her shrub, Charlotte squeezed her eyes shut, fearful of blinking. If the gardener had seen and recognized her, he would report her to the Yateses, who would in turn report her to her mother and brother—and all would be lost.

A gust of wind rustled the verdure around her. Her heart thundered against her ribs, and she feared she might be sick.

But the gardener did not stop. Long after his footsteps faded, Charlotte kept to her hiding place. Quiet descended until only the noise of the streets and alleys beyond the garden walls filtered in around the enclosure behind the enormous townhouse.

Peeking around the shrub, she found the path clear once again.

Sneaking into the garden through the servants’ entrance in the rear had proven risky but successful. She hadn’t been sure she’d avoid being spotted by any of the servants, busy with their early morning duties, but Providence appeared to be with her.

She cautiously made her way across the garden to the back of the house. She peeked through the window of Collin Yates’s study and, finding it empty, slipped inside, relieved no one had discovered that she’d left it unlocked when she sneaked out of the house near dawn. She stuck her head out into the hallway, and, hearing no movement, made her way upstairs as quietly as she could. She paused on the landing and looked around the corner, down the hallway on which all of the bedrooms opened. No stirrings, no sounds. Heart pounding wildly and trying to keep her feet from touching the floor, she made her way along the thick carpet to the bedroom at the end of the hall and slipped inside, pushing the door closed with a soft click.

Movement across the room caught her eye. Turning to face the intruder, she found herself looking at a bedraggled boy in an over-sized coat and britches, a tall, round hat jammed on his head almost down to his eyes.

She laughed, and the bedraggled midshipman in the mirror did likewise. Yes, her disguise was convincing enough to startle even herself. With a sigh she unbuttoned the coat and pulled it off, dropping it to the floor. When Lieutenant Cochrane had looked at her with recognition in his gray eyes, she was certain her entire plan would crash like a ship against a rocky shore. She sent up a quick prayer of thanks that he hadn’t connected her appearance as Charles Lott with her true identity.

Sinking into the chair at the dressing table, she yanked off the hat and pulled her long thick hair out from under the high collar of the uniform coat. She’d tried pinning it flat to her head, but the cumbersome length of it—past her waist when unbound—created too much bulk for even the oversized hat to conceal.

The small porcelain clock on the mantel chimed once. Half-past eight. Panic once again rising, Charlotte peeled out of the uniform—picked up for mere pennies the first time she’d been able to sneak away from her mother’s and Mrs. Yates’s chaperonage a few days ago—stuffed it in the bottom of her trunk, threw her sleeping gown over
her head, and jumped into the bed, still trying to find the sleeves with her hands as the bedroom door swung quietly open.

At the thump of the water pitcher on the commode, Charlotte sat up as if awakened by the sound.

Her maid curtsied. “Good morning, miss. I brought you fresh water for washing.”

“Thank you.” Charlotte grabbed her dressing gown from the end of the bed and shrugged into it, and then she stepped behind the screen in the corner. The scent of lilacs drifted up from the warm water as she poured it into the porcelain basin in the top of the exquisite dark-wood cabinet.

After running most of the way back from the dockyard, the wet cloth felt good against her skin, especially on her neck and back where her thick braid had been pressed against her by her uniform coat.

With the maid’s assistance, she soon stood before the mirror where Midshipman Charles Lott had been reflected less than an hour ago, now looking upon a fashionable young lady. Fear that she wouldn’t be able to pull off her plan swirled in her stomach, but she pushed it aside.

“The irons are ready, miss.”

Charlotte sat at the dressing table, sipped the coffee which had been delivered while she dressed, and reviewed her plans for the next eight days as the maid twisted and twirled and pinned her hair.

Anticipation, anxiety, and excitement danced within her veins. In just over a week, she would leave Portsmouth on a grand adventure. A grand adventure that would culminate in arriving in Jamaica, being reunited with Henry Winchester, and marrying him.

“Your new rank suits you, Commodore Ransome.”

William met Julia’s green eyes in the mirror’s reflection. Sitting in the middle of the bed in her white sleeping gown, her coppery hair cascading in riotous curls around her shoulders and back, she looked
as young as when he’d made the gut-wrenching decision to walk away from her twelve years ago.

Now she was his wife. His knees quaked at the thought.

He returned to the examination of his new uniform coat, delivered from the tailor just this morning. “I am indebted to your father for arranging the promotion. There are many officers more deserving. All will say I received special favor because I am now his son-in-law.”

BOOK: Ransome's Crossing
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