This is the fifth book in the Rundel series. Ben is ready to make captain’s list and champing at the bit for his own command, but the Admiralty does not see it that way. Ben is assigned to the H.M. S. Gadfly and told it might be “a troubled command.”
At first he cannot be certain about the captain, but gradually he learns that he is the son of an M.P. who has bought his son a commission in the British Navy as captain. The father wants to get his son away from a frowsy London actress and from the acting stage. But young de Lacey is bent on being an actor and spends all of his time in his cabin in a fog of opium, acting out various Shakespearean roles.
Ben, as first Leftenant, has to take the ship under his control or face being run aground. He knows that if he takes over the ship, he must also keep all of her records and give most of the sailing orders. If he does so, he could be found guilty of mutiny.
The two other leftenants have little sailing experience. Tom Murphy is his only hope of success, his true companion in a time of need. The ship’s surgeon is also useless and cannot declare the captain as unfit for duty, so Ben must balance his demanding position as first leftenant against the serious duties of captain.
Over several years he manages to cover for the captain and takes a number of fine prizes which add to his wealth. When the captain nearly sets the ship on fire, Ben decides to act. He survives the court martial and heads off with Lord Nelson to the Battle of Copenhagen. On the way they are forced to drop anchor off the Goodwin Sands because of adverse winter winds. Ben is acting as Nelson’s scribe again and goes ashore with the Admiral to stay at the Royal Inn.
On a trip back from the fleet after delivering mail, Ben’s boat is capsized in heavy surf. He is found nearly dead on the strand by some smugglers, the Spit family. They take him in and help him recover, but put him to the oars of a ‘centipede’, a long narrow, fast boat used for smuggling. Ben escapes and is nearly shot as a spy by Admiral Graves as he tries to reboard a British ship.
Ben and Tom go on to fight the bloody battle of Copenhagen only to see themselves set ashore in 1803 during the peace accord. Ben wanders the streets of Portsmouth like many other men looking for work. His curiosity sends him to a boat wright shop where he learns the trade. Tom has gone home to Ireland. Ben’s romance begins to flower, but ever so slowly since his lady love is a popular diva far away in London at the opera. A strange turn of events puts Ben into some property in a most unexpected way.
reference: Battle of Copenhagen