Authors: Alexander Kent
TAND INTO DANGER
Selected Historical Fiction Published by McBooks Press
The Complete Midshipman Bolitho
Stand Into Danger
In Gallant Company
Sloop of War
To Glory We Steer
Command a King's Ship
Passage to Mutiny
With All Despatch
Form Line of Battle!
Enemy in Sight!
The Flag Captain
The Inshore Squadron
A Tradition of Victory
Success to the Brave
Honour This Day
The Only Victor
Beyond the Reef
The Darkening Sea
For My Country's Freedom
Cross of St George
Sword of Honour
Second to None
Man of War
Heart of Oak
Halfhyde at the Bight of Benin
Halfhyde and the Guns of Arrest
Halfhyde to the Narrows
Halfhyde for the Queen
Halfhyde Ordered South
Halfhyde on Zanatu
The French Admiral
The Gun Ketch
What Lies Buried
Storm Force to Narvik
Last Lift from Crete
All the Drowning Seas
A Share of Honour
The Torch Bearers
A Fine Boy for Killing
The Wicked Trade
The Spithead Nymph
Ramage & The Drumbeat
Ramage & The Freebooters
Governor Ramage R.N.
Ramage & The Guillotine
Ramage & The Rebels
The Ramage Touch
Ramage & The Renegades
Ramage at Trafalgar
Ramage & The Saracens
Ramage & The Dido
Â Â Â The Naval Officer
Mr Midshipman Easy
Â Â Â The Merchant Service
Â Â Â The Dog Fiend
Victors and Lords
The Sepoy Mutiny
Massacre at Cawnpore
The Cannons of Lucknow
The Heroic Garrison
The Valiant Sailors
The Brave Captains
Hazard of Huntress
Hazard in Circassia
Victory at Sebastopol
Guns to the Far East
Escape from Hell
Sand of the Arena
A Sailor of Austria
The Emperor's Coloured Coat
The Two-Headed Eagle
Tomorrow the World
Too Few for Drums
Seven Men of Gascony
The Only Life That Mattered
Devil to Pay
Touch and Go
So Near So Far
The Life and Times of Horatio Hornblower
The Eighteenth Captain
Between Two Fires
Badge of Glory
First to Land
Dust on the Sea
Twelve Seconds to Live
The White Guns
A Prayer for the Ship
The Devil's Own Luck
The Dying Trade
A Hanging Matter
An Element of Chance
The Scent of Betrayal
A Game of Bones
On a Making Tide
Tested by Fate
Breaking the Line
The War of Knives
McBooks Press, Inc.
First published by McBooks Press
by Highseas Authors Ltd.
First published in the United Kingdom by Hutchinson
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Cover painting by Geoffrey Huband
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Stand into danger / by Alexander Kent.
p. cm. â (Richard Bolitho novels ; no. 2)
ISBN 0-935526-42-0 (trade paper)
1. Great BritainâHistory, Navalâ18th centuryâFiction.
I. Title. II. Series: Kent, Alexander. Richard Bolitho novels ;
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Printed in the United States of America
TAND INTO DANGER
Far away where sky met sea
A majestic figure grew,
Pushed along by Royal decree
Her aggressive pennants flew.
Blazing red, dark plumes of grey,
As shot and grape found its way
Into a human wall.
A Mariner's Tale
by Daniel Byrne
RICHARD BOLITHO thrust some coins into the hand of the man who had carried his sea-chest to the jetty and shivered in the damp air. It was halfway through the forenoon, and yet much of the land and the sprawling houses of Plymouth were hidden in drifting mist. No wind at all to speak of, so that the mist made everything look eerie and dismal.
Bolitho squared his shoulders and stared across the swirling water of the Hamoaze. As he did so he felt the unfamiliar touch of his lieutenant's uniform which, like everything in his sea-chest, was new: the white lapels of his coat, the cocked hat set squarely across his black hair. Even his breeches and shoes had come from the same shop in Falmouth, in his own county just across the river, from the tailor whose family had been making clothing for sea officers since anyone could remember.
It should be his proudest moment. All he had worked and hoped for. That first, seemingly impossible step from midshipman's berth to wardroom, to become a King's officer.
He tugged his hat more firmly across his forehead as if to make himself believe it. It
his proudest moment.
“Be you joinin' th'
Bolitho saw that the man who had carried the chest was still beside him. In the dull light he looked poor and ragged, but there was no mistaking what he had once been: a seaman.
Bolitho said, “Yes, she's lying out there somewhere.”
The man followed his glance across the water, his eyes faraway.
“Fine frigate, zur. Only three years old, she be.” He nodded sadly. “She's bin fittin' out for months. Some say for a long voyage.”
Bolitho thought of this man and all the hundreds like him who roamed the shorelines and harbours looking for work, yearning for the sea which they'd once cursed and damned with the best of them.
But this was February
, and to all accounts England had been at peace for years. Wars still erupted around the world, of course, but always in the name of trade or self-preservation. Only the old enemies remained the same, content to bide their time, to seek out the weakness which might one day be exploited.
Ships and men, once worth their weight in gold, were cast aside. The vessels to rot, the seamen, like this ragged figure with all the fingers missing from one hand and a scar on his cheek as deep as a knife, left without the means to live.
Bolitho asked, “What were you in?”
Astonishingly, the man seemed to expand and straighten his back as he answered, “Th'
zur. Cap'n Keppel.” Just as quickly he slumped down again. “Any chance of a berth in your ship, zur?”
Bolitho shook his head. “I'm new. I don't know the state aboard
The man sighed. “I'll call 'e a boat then, zur.”
He put his good hand in his mouth and gave a piercing whistle. There was an answering clatter of oars in the mist and very slowly a waterman's boat nudged towards the jetty.
Bolitho called, “
if you please!”
Then he turned to give some more coins to his ragged companion, but he had vanished into the mist. Like a ghost. Gone perhaps to join all the others.
Bolitho clambered into the boat and drew his new cloak around him, his sword gripped between his legs. The waiting was done. It was no longer the day after tomorrow and then tomorrow. It was now.
The boat dipped and gurgled in a cross-current, the oarsman watching Bolitho with little enthusiasm. Another young luff going to make some poor jack's life hell, he thought. He wondered if the young officer with the grave features and black hair tied to the nape of his neck was so new he would not know the proper waterman's fare. But then again, this one had a West Country touch in his voice, and even if he was a âforeigner' from across the border in Cornwall, he would not be fooled.
Bolitho went over all that he had discovered about his new ship. Three years old, the ragged man had said. He would know. All Plymouth probably pondered over the care which was being taken to equip and man a frigate in these hard times.
Twenty-eight guns, fast and agile,
was what most young officers dreamed of. In time of war, free of the fleet's apron strings, swifter than any larger vessel, and more heavily armed than anything smaller, a frigate was a force to be reckoned with. Better hopes of promotion, too, and if you were lucky enough ever to reach the lofty peak of command, so too would a frigate offer the chance of action and prize-money.
Bolitho thought of his last ship, the seventy-four-gun
Huge, slow-moving, a teeming world of people, miles of rigging, vast spans of canvas, and the spars to carry it. It was also a schoolroom, where the young midshipmen learned how to control and sustain their unwieldy charge, and they learned the hard way.
Bolitho looked up as the waterman said, “Should be seeing her about now, sir.”
Bolitho peered ahead, glad of the interruption to his thoughts. As his mother had said when he had left her in the big grey house at Falmouth,
“Put it behind you, Dick. You cannot bring him back. So take care of yourself now. The sea is no place for the unwary.”
The mist darkened and edged aside as the anchored ship loomed into view. The boat was approaching her starboard bow and past the long tapering jib-boom. Like Bolitho's new uniform on the wet jetty, the
seemed to shine through the drifting murk.
From her lithe black and buff hull to her three mastheads she was a thoroughbred. All her shrouds and standing rigging were freshly blacked down, her yards crossed, and each sail neatly furled to match its neighbour.
Bolitho raised his eyes to the figurehead as it reached out as if to greet him. It was the most beautiful one he had ever seen. A bare-breasted girl with her out-thrust arm pointing to the next horizon. In her hand she held the victor's crown of laurels. Only the laurels and her unwavering blue stare had been inserted to break her white purity.
The waterman said between pulls, “They
that the wood-carver used his young bride to copy for that, sir.” He showed his teeth in what might have been a grin. “I reckon he had to fight a few away from
Bolitho watched the frigate slipping past the boat, the occasional activity on her nearest gangway and high above the deck.
She was a beautiful ship.
He was lucky.
The waterman bawled in reply, “Aye, aye!”
Bolitho saw some movement at the entry port, but not enough to excite much attention. The waterman's answer to the challenge had said it all. An officer was joining the ship, but nobody senior enough to bother about, let alone her captain.
Bolitho stood up as two seamen leapt into the boat to help make fast and to collect his chest. Bolitho glanced at them quickly. He was not fully eighteen years old, but he had been at sea since he was twelve and had learned to assess and measure the skills of sailormen.
They looked tough and hardy, but the hull of a ship could hide a lot. The sweepings of jails and assize courts, being sent to sea to serve the King rather than face deportation or a hangman's halter.
The seamen stood aside in the pitching boat as Bolitho handed the oarsman some money.
The man pushed it into his jerkin and grinned. “
sir. Good luck!”
Bolitho climbed up the frigate's tumblehome and stepped through the entry port. He was astonished at the difference even though he'd been expecting it. After a ship of the line, the
seemed crowded to a point of confusion. From the twenty
pounders on her gun deck to the smaller weapons further aft every inch of space seemed to have a purpose and to be in use. Neatly flaked lines, halliards and braces, tiered boats and racks of pikes at the foot of each mast, while in and around every item were men he must soon know by name.
A lieutenant stepped through the side party and asked, “Mr Bolitho?”
Bolitho replaced his hat. “Aye, sir. Come aboard to join.”
The lieutenant nodded curtly. “Follow me. I'll have your gear taken aft.” He said something to a seaman and then shouted, “Mr Timbrell! Put some more hands in the foretop. It was like bedlam up there when I last inspected it!”
Bolitho just remembered in time to duck his head as they walked aft beneath the quarterdeck. Again the ship appeared to be crowding in on him. More guns, firmly tethered behind each sealed port, the aromas of tar and cordage, fresh paint and crowded humanity, the smells of a living vessel.
He tried to assess the lieutenant who was leading him aft to the wardroom. Slim and round-faced, with that harassed look of a man left in charge.
“Here we are.”
The lieutenant opened a screen door and Bolitho stepped into his new home. Even with the black muzzled twelve-pounders along one side, a reminder, if one was needed, that there was no place in a ship-of-war which was safe when the iron began to fly, it looked surprisingly comfortable. A long table, with high-backed chairs instead of benches like those endured by lowly midshipmen. There were racks for drinking glasses, others for swords and pistols, and on the deck there was a covering of painted canvas.
The lieutenant turned and studied Bolitho thoughtfully. “I'm Stephen Rhodes, Second Lieutenant.” He smiled, the change making him more youthful than Bolitho had realized. “As this is your first ship as lieutenant, I'll try to make the way as easy as I can. Call me Stephen, if you wish, but âsir' in front of the hands.” Rhodes threw back his head and yelled, “Poad!”
A scrawny little man in a blue jacket bustled through a screen door.
“Some wine, Poad. This is the new third lieutenant.”
Poad bobbed. “Pleasure, sir, I'm sure.”
As he hurried away Rhodes remarked, “Good servant, but light-fingered, so don't leave anything too valuable lying about.” He became serious again. “The first lieutenant is in Plymouth, doing something or other. His name is Charles Palliser, and might seem a bit stiff at first meeting. He's been in
with the captain from her first commissioning.” He changed tack suddenly. “You were lucky to get this appointment.” It sounded like an accusation. “You're so young. I'm twenty-three, and was only promoted to second lieutenant when my predecessor was killed.”
Rhodes grimaced. “Hell, it was nothing heroic. He was thrown off a horse and broke his neck. Good fellow in many ways, but there it is.”
Bolitho watched the wardroom servant putting goblets and a bottle within Rhodes' reach.
He said, “I
surprised to get this appointment myself.”
Rhodes eyed him searchingly. “You don't sound too sure. Don't you
to join us? God, man, there are a hundred who would jump at the chance!”
Bolitho looked away. A bad beginning.
“It's not that. My best friend was killed a month back.” It was out in the open. “I just can't believe it.”
Rhodes' eyes softened and he pushed a glass towards him.
“Drink this, Richard. I didn't understand. Sometimes I wonder why we do this work when others live easily ashore.”
Bolitho smiled at him. Except for his mother's benefit he had not smiled much lately.
“What are our orders, er, Stephen?”
Rhodes relaxed. “Nobody really knows except the lord and master. A long haul to the south'rd is all I
know. The Caribbean, maybe further still.” He shivered and glared at the nearest gunport. “God I'll be glad to see the back of this wet misery here!” He took a quick swallow. “We've a good company for the most part, but with the usual seasoning of gallows-birds. The sailing master, Mr Gulliver, is newly promoted from master's mate, but he's a fine navigator, even if he is a bit awkward amongst his betters. By tonight we shall have a full complement of midshipmen, two of whom are twelve and thirteen respectively.” He grinned. “But don't be slack with 'em, Richard, just because you were one yourself a dog-watch ago. Your head will be on the block, not theirs!”
Rhodes tugged a watch from his breeches. “First lieutenant will be coming off shortly. I had better chase up the hands. He likes a smart display when he steps aboard.”
He pointed to a small screened cabin. “That one is yours, Richard. Tell Poad what you need and he will get the other servants to deal with it.” Impulsively he thrust out his hand. “Good to have you with us. Welcome aboard.”
Bolitho sat in the empty wardroom listening to the clatter of blocks and rigging, the unending slap of feet above his head. Hoarse voices, the occasional trill of a boatswain's call as a piece of gear was piped up from a boat alongside, to be stored and checked into its own special place in the hull.