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Fun Friday—RANSOME’S CROSSING Chapter 1

Friday, April 23, 2010


Two weeks ago, I posted the prologue of Ransome’s Crossing. Now to whet your appetite even more for the second book of The Ransome Trilogy, which releases June 1, here’s an excerpt from the first chapter:

Ransome’s Crossing
Book Two of the Ransome Trilogy
ISBN-13: 978-0-7369-2754-3
Harvest House Publishers, Inc.
© 2010 by Kaye Dacus

Chapter One

Portsmouth, England
August 17, 1814

Ned Cochrane, First Lieutenant, HMS Alexandra, stepped out of the jollyboat 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 in time to save himself from being swept off the quay by the net full of barrels swinging at the end of a crane. His hat wasn’t so fortunate.
. . . . .The cargo swung menacingly overhead. Ned scrambled backwards, 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, stood there in a worn, ill-fitting midshipman’s uniform, holding Ned’s dripping hat. Sure enough, the lad’s right sleeve was wet to the shoulder.
. . . . .“Nothing injured but my pride.” Ned took the 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 every question 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. “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, Lieutenant Montgomery Howe, put a series of questions to the lad. Lott answered each quickly and with near textbook 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, then at Lott.
. . . . .Ned ground his teeth at the boy’s impertinence 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 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 expression that flickered across Howe’s face, he’d received a similar mercy some time 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 second-hand 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. 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, Monty. You should remember that quite well.” Ned started to walk away and 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 the boy and do whatever he could to promote the boy’s interest. 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, closer, 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 her, 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—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 and locked her out. 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 oversized 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 the hat off 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, then 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.

  1. Friday, April 23, 2010 8:30 am

    Happy Sigh . . . . I can’t WAIT to read this! But what will she do about her HAIR???? Now I’ll be worried until it comes out . . .


    • Friday, April 23, 2010 5:44 pm

      Ahhh . . . that’s a scene I wrote eons ago—before I even finished the first draft of Ransome’s Honor, I believe. It was one of those scenes that just came to me.


  2. Friday, April 23, 2010 11:02 am

    Man, this is so good.


  3. Friday, April 23, 2010 3:38 pm

    You’re killing me, Kaye. I so enjoyed Ransome’s Honor, such that I planned to read this next installment too. But then, with so many books piling up, I figured I’d pass. After all, I’m keeping up with your contemporaries. 🙂 But now you’ve reminded me why I loved the first book so much, and now I’ll have to read the second. Sigh. I guess I should put the third book on my TBR list now.


    • Friday, April 23, 2010 5:45 pm

      Mwahahahahahahaha . . . my evil plan is working . . . 😉


  4. Monday, April 26, 2010 12:41 pm

    This is awesome, Kaye. Thanks for giving us sneak peeks!


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