Ramage & the Drumbeatby Dudley Pope
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The lieutenant is ordered to proceed to Gibraltar "with all possible despatch" aboard His Majesty's ship Kathleen, to support Lord Nelson in a battle with the Spanish off Cape Trafalgar.
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Ramage & The Drumbeat
The Lord Ramage Novels, No. 2
By Dudley Pope
McBooks Press, Inc.Copyright © 1967 Dudley Pope
All rights reserved.
The heat and humidity of a Mediterranean summer made the watermark in the paper stand out like a fading scar, and traces of mildew left a tarnished gilt outline round the edges. The orders, in a clerk's careful handwriting that was sufficiently faint to indicate he was short of powder to make the ink, were dated October 21, 1796, headed "By Commodore Horatio Nelson, Commander of His Majesty's ship Diadem and senior officer of His Majesty's ships and vessels at Bastia," and addressed to "Lieutenant Lord Ramage, Commander of His Majesty's ship Kathleen." They said, with a directness reflecting the Commodore's manner:
You are hereby required and directed to receive on board His Majesty's ship under your command the persons of the Marchesa di Volterra and Count Pitti, and to proceed with all possible despatch to Gibraltar, being careful to follow a southerly route to avoid interception by enemy ships of war ... On arrival at Gibraltar you will report forthwith to the Admiral commanding to receive orders for your further proceedings.
And be told, Ramage guessed, that the Marchesa and Pitti would go to England in a much bigger ship and the Kathleen was to rejoin the Commodore's squadron, which would by then have finished evacuating the British troops from Bastia (leaving the whole of Corsica in rebel and French hands) and gone back to the island of Elba to salvage what it could as General Bonaparte's troops swept southward down the Italian mainland like a river in full flood.
Genoa, Pisa, Milan, Florence, Leghorn, and by now perhaps even Civitaveechia and Rome ... Each city and port that was beautiful and useful to the French would have a Tricolour and a wrought-iron Tree of Liberty (with the absurd Red Cap of Liberty perched on top) set up in its main piazza, with a guillotine nearby for those unable to stomach the Tree's bitter fruit.
Yet, he thought ironically, it's an ill wind ... thanks to Bonaparte's invasion, His Majesty's cutter Kathleen was now the first command of Lieutenant Ramage; and thanks to Bonaparte — an unlikely enough Cupid — one of those who had fled before his troops was on board the Kathleen and the said Lieutenant Ramage had fallen in love with her ...
He scratched his face with the feather of his quill pen and thought of another set of orders, the secret orders which had, like a fuse leading to a row of powder kegs, set off a series of explosions which had rocked his career for the past couple of months.
On September 1, the date those orders were issued to the captain of the Sibella frigate, he had been the junior of three lieutenants on board. The orders, known only to the captain, had been to take the Sibella to a point off the Italian coast and rescue several Italian nobles who had fled from the French and were hiding near the beach.
But a chance evening meeting with a French line-of-battle ship had left the Sibella a shattered wreck, with himself the only surviving officer, and as night came down he'd been able to escape in the remaining boats with the unwounded men. And before quitting the Sibella he'd grabbed the dead captain's secret orders.
Supposing he had thrown them over the side in the special weighted box kept for the purpose? That's what he should have done since there was a considerable risk that the French would capture him.
Well he hadn't; instead he'd read them in the open boat — and found that only a few miles away the Marchesa di Volterra and two cousins, Counts Pitti and Pisano, with several other nobles, were waiting to be rescued. The fact the Volterras were old friends of his parents hadn't influenced his decision (no, he was sure it hadn't) to take one of the boats and carry out the rescue.
And everything had gone wrong: only the Marchesa and her two cousins had finally risked escaping in the boat, and he'd bungled the whole business. Surprised by French cavalry, Pitti had apparently been killed by a shot which destroyed his face, and Ramage had been lucky to get the Marchesa and Pisano away safely.
Lucky ... it was an odd word for him to choose; the Marchesa had been wounded and Pisano, who'd behaved in a cowardly fashion — so much so that the men in the boat were shocked by what they saw — had suddenly accused him of cowardice. And when he'd got them safely to Corsica, Pisano had repeated the accusations in writing.
He shivered as he thought of the resulting court martial. It was bad luck that the senior officer ordering the trial had been an enemy of his father's; it was almost unbelievable how the Marchesa had suddenly thrown aside all loyalty to her cousin and given evidence on Ramage's behalf not only denying that he'd been a coward but declaring that, on the contrary, he'd been a hero ...
And at the end of it all, with the wretched Pisano discredited, Count Pitti had suddenly arrived in Bastia. Far from being shot in the face, he had twisted his ankle while running alone to the boat and, rather than delay his rescuers, hidden under a bush.
Although both the Marchesa and Antonio Pitti had subsequently been fulsome in their praise to Commodore Nelson (who'd arrived in Bastia while the court martial was in progress) Ramage admitted to himself the trial had been more of a blow to his pride than anyone (except perhaps Gianna) had guessed. The proof was that he kept on thinking about it.
He sat up impatiently: the devil take it, the whole business was over and done with now and this was no time for sitting here like an old hen brooding over it. He folded the Commodore's orders, which he now knew by heart, opened his logbook, and dipped the pen in the ink.
Against the time of nine o'clock and under the columns headed Courses And Winds, he wrote with a petulant flourish of his pen "Becalmed." In the next column headed Remarks he noted, "Sunday, 30th October, 1796. Ship's Company employed ATSR. 10 o'clock Divisions. 10:30 Divine Service. 11:30 clear decks and up spirits. 12 dinner."
He disliked the abbreviation ATSR but it was customary: "as the Service required" usually appeared at least twice a day in a logbook.
Since it was still only half-past nine he'd anticipated the rest of the morning's routine, but his temporary cabin was dark, hot, and airless, and he hated it. He wiped the pen impatiently, smearing ink on his thumb, locked up the log and his orders, and went up on deck, acknowledging the sentry's salute with a curt nod.
The discontented scowl on his face warned the men to keep clear as he strode aft. He always detested Sundays at sea because of all the rigmarole it entailed for the commanding officer of one of His Majesty's ships of war, even if he was but a very junior lieutenant and the ship of war a very small cutter armed with only ten carronades.
But even more he detested being becalmed in the Mediterranean on a late autumn day when the long oily swell waves gave no hint of a breeze arriving in the next hour or even the next week. Purgatory must be something like this, he thought wryly, though he had the advantage over everyone else on board since he could display his irritation and they could not.
Leaning over the taffrail he watched the crest of each swell wave coming up astern to see-saw the cutter, lifting first her buoyant counter and then sweeping forward to raise the bow and let the counter drop into the trough, with a squelch like a foot in a sodden boot.
It was an irregular, unnatural, and thoroughly uncomfortable motion, like dice in a shaker, and everything on board that could move did move: the slides of the heavy, squat carronades squeaked and the ropes of their side tackles groaned under the jerky strain; the halyard blocks banged and the halyards themselves slatted against the mast. And — the last straw as far as Ramage was concerned — the headsails were lashed down at the foot of their stays, the big mainsail furled and the wind vane at the masthead spun round and round on its spindle as the mast gyrated, instead of indicating the wind's direction.
Because of light winds and brief thunderstorms the Kathleen had covered only four hundred miles in the last eight days — an average of a couple of knots, less than the pace of a child dawdling to school. It was more than eleven hundred miles from Bastia to Gibraltar, and he was only too conscious of the phrase "with all possible despatch" in the Commodore's orders.
An occasional outraged growl from behind him told Ramage that Henry Southwick, the elderly and usually almost offensively cheerful Master and his second-in-command, was making a last-minute search before reporting the ship and ship's company ready for inspection. With a Master like Southwick the Sunday inspection was merely a routine; Ramage knew not a speck of the brickdust used to polish brasswork, nor a grain of sand lurking in the scuppers after the deck had been holystoned and washed down with a head pump would escape his eye. The cook's coppers would be shining and each mess's bread barge, platters and mugs would be spotless and its pudding cloth scrubbed. Every man was already shaved and rigged out in clean shirt and trousers ... Yet for all that Southwick would soon ask permission to muster the ship's company. Then after the inspection, all hands would be ordered aft for Divine Service, which Ramage would have to conduct himself.
The thought made him self-conscious: he would be taking it for only the sixth time in his life, since he'd commanded the Kathleen for precisely forty-two days and still found it hard to believe that almost the last entry in the cutter's muster book said: "Lieutenant Nicholas Ramage ... as per commission dated September 19th 1796 ..." The sixth Sunday — and he remembered that under the Regulations and Instructions, the captain had to read the thirty-six Articles of War to the ship's company once a month. Since it would replace a sermon he might as well read them today because the sun was shining, and next Sunday it might be pouring with rain and blowing a gale of wind.
After three years of war all but the most stupid seamen knew by heart the Articles' forthright exhortations warning everyone in the Fleet, from admirals to boys, of the perils and punishment for the sins of treason, mutiny, blasphemy, cowardice, and drunkenness; and they knew in particular the thirty-sixth, nicknamed "The Captain's Cloak," which was so phrased that it enabled a captain to word a charge to cover any other villainy that the wit and ingenuity of errant seamen might devise. Still, as long as they could then bellow a few hymns to the fearful tunes John Smith the Second scraped on his fiddle, the men would listen patiently enough. After that they'd be piped to dinner and those off watch would spend the rest of the afternoon skylarking, dancing, mending clothes, and, Ramage thought gloomily, before sundown — unless they were an exemplary ship's company — one or two who had hoarded their grog or won extra tots from their messmates, would be brought before him blind drunk ...
The Marchesa di Volterra stood under the skylight of the captain's cabin, which was hers for the voyage, twisting the looking glass in her hand first one way and then the other to make sure no stray locks of hair had escaped from the chignon that she had spent the last ten minutes trying to tie. Her arms ached, she was hot, and for the first time since the Royal Navy, in the shape of Ramage, had rescued her and her cousin from the mainland as they fled before Bonaparte's cavalry, she wished herself back in her palace at Volterra, where her merest frown would bring a dozen maids running.
For the first time in her seventeen years of life (nearly eighteen, she remembered proudly) she really wanted to make herself look beautiful to please a particular man, and she was having to do it in a tiny cabin without a maid, a wardrobe, or jewellery. How did Nicholas ever manage to live in such a cabin? She was much smaller — his chin rested on her head when she stood close — yet the ceiling, or whatever Nicholas called it, was so low that even now she had to stoop to hold the looking glass high enough. Impatiently she flung the glass into the swinging cot and sat down in the single chair in front of the desk which served as a dressing table. Accidente! What was the use? If only her hair was blond! Everyone had black hair, and she wanted to look different. Did he like high cheekbones? Hers were much too high. And the mouth — hers was too big, and she wished the lips were thinner. And her eyes were too large and brown when she preferred blue or grey-green, like a cat's. And why was her nose small and slightly hooked when she wanted a straight one? And her complexion was shaming — the sun had tanned it gold so that she looked like a peasant girl instead of the woman who ruled a city and a kingdom (even if the kingdom was small, the city was big). She ruled twenty thousand people, she thought bitterly, and not one of them was here now to help her dress her hair — except her cousin Antonio, and he'd only laugh and tease.
Well, Antonio could laugh, but he must help. When she called a heavily built man with a short, squarely trimmed black beard came into the cabin, shoulders hunched to avoid bumping his head on the low beams.
"Well, well! And whose garden party is my beautiful cousin gracing with her presence today?"
"There's only one, my dear Antonio — hasn't Lieutenant Ramage invited the elegant Count Pitti? Everyone will be there — Nicholas makes them put on their best clothes and sing hymns. Perhaps he'll flog some of them with a cat-of-seven-tails just to amuse you."
"Cat-o'-nine-tails," Count Pitti corrected in English.
"Nine then. Antonio, help me tidy my hair."
"It doesn't need it. You're beautiful and you know it and if you want compliments — "
"Will you help me tidy my hair?"
"You love him very deeply, don't you?"
The question was sudden and unexpected, but she neither blushed nor glanced away: instead she looked directly at him, and said with awe, almost fear, in her voice: "I didn't know it was possible. I was a child before I met him; he's made me feel a woman. And he — he's a man, Antonio; everything a man should be. I know only one other man like him."
"And he is?"
"You, my dear cousin. One day a woman will feel for you as I do for him."
"I hope so," he said soberly, "though I won't deserve it. But you have known him — three weeks, a month?"
"Does that matter?"
"No — but never forget you met him in romantic circumstances: it's the stuff of storybooks — the dashing young naval officer sweeping in from the sea to rescue the beautiful Marchesa from beneath the feet of Napoleon's cavalry and —"
"I know. I've thought all about that. But I've also seen him dirty and stinking and exhausted, seen him fighting Napoleon's cavalrymen with only a knife, seen him unjustly court-martialled on a trumped-up charge of cowardice ... Is this the stuff of storybooks as well?"
Pitti shook his head. "No, but when you're parted? When he's at sea for months, perhaps years, what then? You've never had patience, Gianna: since you inherited Volterra you've been able to have everything you wanted — at once."
"That's true," she admitted. "But they were material things: jewels, gay balls, excitement. I think perhaps I wanted all that so urgently because I hadn't met him. When you've no one to love, to confide in — to live for, in fact — you get bored: you need entertaining. When there's no sun, you need many candles everywhere."
"Tell me more about this English chandelier!"
Even as she smiled she realised she knew very little about him in the conventional sense; but in the past month when the two of them had together faced so much danger, adventure, death, and intrigue she'd learned things about him that in normal times a woman might live with a man a lifetime without discovering. And apart from the times of immediate danger, she'd seen him in the secret agony of making decisions on which his men's lives depended: she'd seen what probably none of his men ever saw, that command was desperately lonely, particularly for someone as young and sensitive as Nicholas. He'd been given command at an early age and it hadn't yet (nor, she knew, would it ever) brutalised him so he became callous about his men.
Excerpted from Ramage & The Drumbeat by Dudley Pope. Copyright © 1967 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.
Meet the Author
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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About every fifth word in this book is either misspelled or has one or more letters missing. It is ver diffi cul to rea boo s s poorly mad . I've only had my Nook a month, but I'm finding this a common problem with Nook books.
This is the 2nd of 18 volumes. It continues from the first volume, but can be read as a single book. The characters are finely drawn and again, the battle scenes are terrific. It's hard to put down until the end. I recommend it!
A good book marred by poor formatting which left whole sections of words with letters missing. Leaving this book is grossly overpriced. And what is with the review applet? Took me four tries just to get this box to review in.
Well written story and nicely potrayed characters. Interesting and good to read. Nelson as Commodore and boarding a ship ... great story.