"A grand tale written with panache, glitter, and awesome authority." —The New York Times
"Mr. Pope is as good at detail as Ramage is at tactics and it's for those who like their cutlasses sharp and their romance romantic." —Kirkus Reviews
Ramage, finally reunited with his beloved Sarah, hopes to spend at least a few quiet weeks with her. Instead, he is summoned by Admiral Nelson himself. His orders: Ramage is to join Nelson's fleet blockading the combined French and Spanish navies in the port of Cadiz. But Nelson's plan is not merely to blockade the enemy's fleet. He intends to confront it head-on in the biggest naval battle the world has ever seen.
"Mr. Pope is as good at detail as Ramage is at tactics and it's for those who like their cutlasses sharp and their romance romantic." —Kirkus Reviews
The lawyer took the parchment from his worn leather case, carefully smoothed it out flat on the table and perched a pair of spectacles on his bulbous nose. "Your uncle's will is quite straightforward, my lord," he assured Ramage. "In fact I drew it up for him myself after his wife — your aunt, of course — died so unexpectedly last winter."
Ramage nodded and glanced across the table at Sarah. The lawyer was a chubby looking little man with a red face, a redness caused by sun and wind rather than too much port, yet his air of being a prosperous farmer was curiously at odds with his irritatingly precise manner. He had placed the will squarely in front of him on the dining room table, which was serving as a desk, and taken great care to make sure the lower edge of the page was lying parallel with the side of the table. There is no way of hurrying this man, Ramage was trying to tell Sarah.
There was a curious air of unreality about the whole affair. The last time Ramage had sat at this table his uncle, Rufus Treffry, had been alive and well: alert and brisk of manner, he had seemed good for another twenty years. His aunt (his father's sister) seemed if anything younger.
Now both were lying side by side in the Treffry family vault at Saltwood Church, a few miles away, and the new owner of Treffry Hall and the several hundred acres belonging to it was Captain Lord Ramage of the Royal Navy ...
"May I ask, my lord, if you have made up your mind what you are going to do with the property?"
Property? A lawyer's word for what all his life he had thought of and referred to as "Uncle Rufus's place": an imposing, foursquare brick house on the high land at Aldington overlooking the great flat sweep of Romney Marsh, with the Channel a blue line in the distance sweeping round to Dungeness, the point of land marking the south-eastern corner of Kent (and, for that matter, England too).
"I haven't thought about it," Ramage said. "I don't know the details of the bequest," he pointed out, nodding at the parchment. "I don't know whether or not my uncle made any provision for the servants, but they are certainly my responsibility now."
Uncle Rufus's butler, for instance. Raven was a sinister-looking man because of a long, wide scar across his left cheek, the result (as the man had explained to Ramage years earlier) of a misunderstanding with a revenue officer — a polite way of admitting that he had been caught smuggling. But Raven, the perfect servant in the dining room yet equally able to make sure that the horse brought to the front door was glistening of coat and shiny of harness, had been an important part of Ramage's childhood (some of which had been spent in Italy). Staying with Uncle Rufus had meant exciting hours spent along the banks of sunken lanes with Raven, handling (and being nipped by) his ferrets, pegging nets over rabbit holes, or quietly skirting the edge of one of the woods, being taught how to stalk pheasant holding one of Uncle Rufus's second-best fowling pieces (were all those splendid guns included in the will?). And learning to ride — Raven had all the standards and sharp language of an army riding master, and the fact that Ramage was now a good rider (though not an enthusiastic horseman) was entirely due to Raven.
Ferreting and rabbiting, shooting rocketing pheasants, riding a horse over the Downs or leaping the dykes and ditches that laced the Marsh, brushing horses' coats and polishing harness, hearing stories of Marsh smugglers and tales of strings of pack-horses making their way in the moonlight from the sandy beaches off Romney and Camber, and "the Ness" slung with barrels of smuggled brandy for the squire and lace for his lady ... that was Raven. What were Raven's links with the smugglers? Ramage's concern was only curiosity; like most of the people living along the coasts of Kent and Sussex, he saw smugglers and smuggling as a part of life. Sensible folk looked the other way, and only a fool paid customs duty and excise on his liquor.
"Ah, yes," the lawyer said, "the staff are mentioned in the will."
"We would be interested in the details," Sarah said unexpectedly and the lawyer, unused to women (even the daughter of the Marquis of Rockley) taking an active role, looked startled.
"Yes, indeed, my lady. Should I begin reading?"
"Unless you would like more tea?" She gestured towards the large silver urn that Raven had left at the end of the table. "Or perhaps something stronger?"
"Oh my lady, no thank you: never before noon, and rarely even then. My wife, you see. A very strong-minded woman, and if she smells liquor on my breath too early in the day, she thinks I will be damned."
"You will, too," Sarah said and then looked despairingly at her husband when she saw the little lawyer had taken her remark seriously. But at least he was now holding up the will with one hand and adjusting his spectacles with the other.
The man coughed twice, as though it was part of a ritual before reading a will, and then put the will down again. He looked up at Ramage.
"A copy of the relevant parts of the will was sent to your father to await your return to England, my lord."
Ramage almost sighed aloud. How to explain to a lawyer that copies of documents mattered less than actions? That people owning large estates which had passed from father to son for generations took much for granted, so that a brief remark could describe as much as two pages of a lawyer's writings? Ramage had never seen the copy of the will sent to his father; when he had returned from this last affair in the Mediterranean his father had said simply that Rufus had died "and of course the property goes to you."
The "of course" took notice that Rufus had no children and that Ramage was his only nephew; it took in what they had all known for years, that Treffry Hall would go to Ramage — who else? But all that was mixed up with things like noblesse oblige and family affairs that lawyers never really understood because they could not be written down in their curiously stilted legal language. Stilted and legal, Ramage realized, because their phrases had stood the test of probate law and litigation and there was no mistaking the meaning, but nevertheless it always sounded stilted to ears that rejoiced in the rich flow of Shakespeare.
"Yes, so my father told me," Ramage said, "but circumstances prevented me from reading it. So please proceed ..."
Again a deep breath, again a twitch at the spectacles, again two coughs, and the lawyer launched into the will. "I, Rufus Charles Aldington Treffry, being of sound mind ..."
Aldington? Ramage thought as the lawyer droned through the preliminary phrases, I didn't know that was one of his names. Ramage knew the family was one of the oldest in Kent, and that Treffry Hall had a history almost as old as the county, but he had not realized that the Treffrys went so far back. One of the habits of belonging to such an old family as the Ramages was that you tended to regard almost everyone else as parvenu. Although come to think of it, it was not part of family history that there had been any fuss when Admiral the Earl of Blazey's young sister had become engaged to and then wed a Kentish landowner.
Ramage was startled by a double cough and looked up to see the lawyer, spectacles now in his hand, looking at him. "We now come to the sections concerning you, my lord," he said apologetically, clearly having noticed that Ramage's attention had wandered.
"Oh, indeed. Please continue," Ramage said, aware that Sarah was looking at him with an expression combining love and exasperation.
First came the bequests to the staff. A tidy lump sum for Raven, another for the housekeeper, and three more to the cook, gamekeeper, and head gardener, "All of whom," the lawyer said as though an explanation was necessary, "had been in Mr Treffry's service for many years."
"And all of whom have been paid regularly since then by my father until I could get back to England and take over the management of the estate," said Ramage, irritated by the lawyer's almost patronizing manner.
"Oh, indeed, my lord, and in any case I could have arranged a loan on their bequests, using the terms of the will as collateral."
Why is it, Ramage wondered, that just as 1 begin to think you are not a bad fellow after all, you make some crass remark like that?
The man resumed reading. Treffry Hall and all its furnishings and appurtenances, outbuildings, livestock and contents, and the land comprising the estate, was left to his nephew but (so Uncle Rufus was a realist, since Nicholas Ramage was a serving officer who had nearly been killed several times already) should that nephew predecease him, Rufus Treffry then indicated who should inherit.
Sarah went white, and for a moment Ramage thought she would faint. "But — but ... he met me only once, at our wedding," she gasped. "To leave me all this if I was widowed!"
Ramage laughed to lighten the moment. "I shall make a point of staying alive to cheat you out of your inheritance!"
The lawyer, missing completely the lightness of Ramage's tone and not noticing Sarah's shock (after all, Ramage realized, the man had drawn up the will and the terms were no surprise to him), said: "Well, my lady, I expect it will all come to you anyway if anything happens to his Lordship."
Sarah, knowing just how many times she had already just missed being widowed since her marriage, and how many times Nicholas had nearly lost his life since she first met him, nodded politely. "I'm sure it will," she said, trying to keep the chill from her voice. "Pray continue."
The lawyer was near the end of the will. Rufus Treffry had obviously been very proud of his collection of armour, and also his sporting guns, and he expressed the hope "though creating no trust in the matter" that his legatee would continue to maintain all the pieces in good condition. "In fact the butler, Raven, has looked after them for many years," the lawyer explained, oblivious to the fact that as a boy Nicholas Ramage had delighted in helping Raven.
Finally the lawyer took another document from his case. "The deeds to the property, my lord." He searched for another sheet and then handed it over. "That is just a note delineating the boundaries of your land, my lord. You may wish to ride round the boundaries. I am sure that Raven knows them well."
No better than I, Ramage thought. As a boy, when he was allowed to borrow one of Uncle Rufus's fowling pieces, it was curious how the best game always seemed to be roaming the neighbours' fields. To a lawyer (and to an Uncle Rufus if Ramage was caught) it was poaching, but to a young boy it had been a great adventure. And now Treffry Hall and its estate was all his. His and Sarah's. And at Chatham Dockyard his frigate was being refitted after a long period in the Mediterranean.
Ramage was lounging in an armchair watching Sarah embroidering a cushion cover the following afternoon when Raven tapped on the door and came in with a silver salver, which he offered to Ramage.
Ramage looked at the packet resting in the middle of the salver. It was too thick to be just a newsy letter from his father. He recognized the griffin seal and the handwriting, but it was obviously a packet which also contained other letters.
"This has just arrived, sir," Raven said, and when Ramage had taken the packet he turned to Sarah. "Is there anything your Ladyship requires?"
Sarah smiled and held up the embroidery. "I'm almost out of silks," she said.
Raven nodded understandingly. "I'll talk to my friends, madam. A selection of colours?"
Sarah frowned, looking at her work, and then nodded.
"A day or two, milady," Raven said.
By then Ramage had broken the seal of the packet and found that it contained a brief letter from his father and another letter whose cover was closed by a large seal showing a slim woman wearing a crown and standing with an anchor at her feet.
"Who on earth is that from?" Sarah asked as Raven left the room as silently as he had arrived.
"The gentlemen at Lloyd's, from the look of it," Ramage said, breaking the seal. "Don't say some damned shipowner is complaining about that convoy I brought home from Barbados. ... No, the Committee of Lloyd's would have written to their Lordships, and then the Admiralty would write to me ..."
"Open it!" Sarah urged. "Why speculate when you're holding the answer in your hand?"
How did he explain? "You've no idea how peaceful it is just sitting here in front of the fire, watching you sewing, and knowing no first lieutenant or master is going to come to me with a problem. And knowing that there are no orders from their Lordships in the top drawer of my desk which I have to carry out or 'answer to the contrary at my peril.' You want some smuggled silks, Raven wants to take the bay mare down to the farrier, cows have knocked down about four yards of a spile fence on the south side of the beechwood meadow, and the housekeeper wants to know if she should tell Raven to bring up another case of sherry from the cellar. That's all. No strange sail on the horizon, no ship's company to send to general quarters just before dawn, no orders in the drawer ..."
"And a loving wife to share your bed," Sarah said unexpectedly.
"Especially that," Ramage said, breaking the seal of the letter and then deliberately putting it to one side while he read the letter from his father.
"Father and mother send their love ... Hanson spilled soup over Lady Cardington's dress ... oh yes, and the dear lady was so enraged that father sacked Hanson on the spot and re-engaged him as soon as her Ladyship had left!"
"It sounds to me as though Hanson and your father have an arrangement!"
"Oh, they have," Ramage said. "He's been with us about forty years, and you know how his spectacles keep sliding down his nose? Well, without the spectacles he can't see a thing, and probably as he served the soup his spectacles slipped, so while one hand reached up for the spectacles, the other tilted the soup tureen! Means Lady Cardington never gets invited to dinner again!"
Sarah looked puzzled until Ramage explained. "If she came and found Hanson still in the house, she'd be most upset. As far as father is concerned, Hanson is worth any dozen guests like Lady Cardington!"
"Isn't she the woman with a very deep voice, married to that extraordinary fat Welshman?"
"Yes — he was created about five years ago and she has never got over suddenly becoming a lady without any effort on her part. A bass voice and a falsetto brain — my mother's opinion!"
"And Lloyd's?" Sarah asked as Ramage put down his father's letter. "I think you're scared of it!"
"No, just savouring it. After all, one doesn't want to eat the tastiest thing first."
"I always do," Sarah said firmly. "I can't bear the suspense." Ramage put the letter down, stood up and walked over to select a thick log before putting it on the fire.
"You've never seen me in a temper yet," Sarah said, "but when I let myself go ..."
Ramage glanced at her and stared at an ankle showing below the hem of her dress. "I'll wager ten guineas to an empty bottle you stamp your foot!"
"Oh, you are a beast! Read the letter!"
"I know what it says, so there's no hurry."
"What does it say, then?"
"The Master and Committee of Lloyd's request the pleasure of our company at a dinner being given to some visiting bashaw, and we are not going all the way to London for that!"
He sat down and picked up the letter. A couple of minutes later, after he was obviously beginning to read it a third time, Sarah said ominously: "Well?"
"Well, it's not for some bashaw after all," Ramage said lamely. "It's a dinner, though."
"Me, actually," Ramage said, his voice a mixture of puzzlement and modesty.
"Nicholas!" Sarah, now completely intrigued, was also impatient and on the verge of losing her temper. "Nicholas, what's it all about?"
"I'll read it out, darling. It's addressed from the 'Merchant Seaman's Office' and is dated the beginning of last week — the same day we left London to come down here. A Monday, wasn't it?"
"Darling, what does it matter?" Sarah demanded.
"It was Tuesday, actually, but as you say, it doesn't matter. Well, it's headed, 'At a meeting of the Committee for Encouraging the Capture of French privateers, armed vessels & c, Rawson Aislabie esquire in the Chair.' ... Then there's a break and a sort of heading before it goes on with the point of it all."
Excerpted from Ramage at Trafalgar by Dudley Pope. Copyright © 1986 Dudley Pope. Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Dudley Pope, a naval defense correspondent of the London Evening News, progressed to writing carefully researched naval history. C.S. Forester urged Pope to try his hand at fiction and saw the younger writer as his literary heir. Pope began what was to become an impressive series with Ramage (1965) and, over the next 24 years, produced 17 more novels tracing Lord Ramage's career. Pope died in 1997.
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