"The first and still favourite rival to Hornblower." —Daily Mirror
Ramage's Diamondby Dudley Pope
Newly promoted to be the youngest Captain in the Royal Navy, in 1804 Ramage is despatched to blockade the French in Martinique. The passage proves difficult; a slovenly crew under the command of a now incompetent drunk having to be overcome so as to realise the objective. Diamond Rock is fortified and a French convoy has to be dealt with as this gripping adventure proceeds, emulating the real life exploits of Commodore Samuel Hood RN.
Read an Excerpt
The Lord Ramage Novels, No. 7
By Dudley Pope
McBooks Press, Inc.Copyright © 1976 The Ramage Company Limited
All rights reserved.
There was a faint smell of oil, turpentine and beeswax in the shop, and while an assistant scurried off to fetch the owner Ramage glanced first at the sporting guns in the racks round the walls and then at the pairs of pistols nestling in their mahogany cases which almost covered one end of the counter.
The guns accounted for the smell of oil. Then he noticed the polished floor of narrow wooden tiles, laid in a herringbone design to take advantage of the grain pattern. Turpentine and beeswax — the gun-maker used the same polish on his floor as he did on the stocks of his guns.
His father gestured round the shop with his cane. "My first pistol came from here nearly fifty years ago. This fellow's father owned it then, and my father was one of his early customers."
Ramage looked at the tall figure of the Admiral. His face was lined now and his hair was grey, yet he was erect, his brown eyes alert and looking out on the world with amused tolerance from under bushy eyebrows. He pictured his father as a shy young midshipman — a "younker" nervously choosing a pistol, and no doubt anxious to be off to the sword cutler's to complete his martial purchases before joining his first ship.
The Admiral nodded at Ramage's right shoulder. "Your epaulet is crooked. I know it's the first time you've worn it, but ..."
Ramage tried to straighten it but the padding of the strap was new and stiff, unwilling to sit squarely on the shoulder bone, and he was unused to the tight spirals of bullion hanging down in a thick fringe round the edges. The light reflecting on them caught the corner of his right eye and made him feel lopsided. He would get used to it, he thought wryly, but probably not before he had three years' seniority and was entitled to wear an epaulet on the left shoulder as well.
Don't grumble, he told himself as he tugged at the strap; it's taken long enough to be made post and get this single epaulet. He was so used to being addressed as "Lieutenant Ramage" that it was going to take a while to become accustomed to "Captain Ramage." Admittedly his name was right at the bottom of the list of "The Captains of His Majesty's Fleet," but by next year many more lieutenants would have been "made post," their names coming lower on the list, thus increasing his seniority and pushing him up the ladder of promotion.
Progress up the list of lieutenants had been slow: he had been less than a third of the way to the top when he had been unexpectedly made post three days ago. The jump from lieutenant to post captain was reckoned to be the hardest to make because in time of war it did not depend on seniority so much as on doing something that caught the Admiralty's eye — or having enough "interest" in high places. There was a lot of satisfaction in having been promoted as a reward for things done: he had begun to think he was remaining a lieutenant because his father was still out of favour, still regarded as a scapegoat for the stupidity of politicians some twenty years ago.
Cross-eyed, he tried to jerk the epaulet but was interrupted as the plump gun-maker came through the door at the back of the shop, a delighted smile spreading across his face as he hurriedly removed his leather apron.
"My Lords!" the man exclaimed with a quick bow and, noticing Ramage's single epaulet, said with obvious pleasure: "Congratulations, Captain the Lord Ramage. Well-deserved, if I might say so, judging by the Gazettes for the past few years! It seems only a few months ago that the Earl brought you here as a young midshipman just off to join your first ship." He turned to the Admiral, his brow wrinkling in concentration. "It must have been a dozen years ago ... yes, going off to join the Benbow."
The Admiral nodded. "You have a good memory, Mansfield. He was made post last Friday."
The gun-maker's eyes twinkled as he put his oil-stained apron behind the counter. "The bullion of the epaulet ..."
"It'll soon lose the new look," Ramage said. "It hasn't had a breath of sea air yet."
The Admiral sniffed. "The smoke and fog in this damnable city are enough to turn it green, even if it is gold."
He pointed his cane at the sporting guns. "Well, Mansfield, mustn't take up all your morning. I want a lighter gun for snipe — I'm getting a bit stiff in the joints and those blessed birds seem to jink more today than when I was younger. The Captain wants a pair of pistols. He lost that pair you made, and he's been making do with those confounded Sea Service models."
As Mansfield moved towards the cases of pistols the Admiral said: "You'd better attend to me first; the Marchesa is buying the pistols as a present, and she's raiding the shop next door. She'll join us in a few minutes, after she's bought a few cables of lace and ribbon."
For the next twenty minutes, as carriages clattered along Bond Street and hucksters shouted the merits of their wares, the Admiral and the gun-maker discussed sporting guns. Once they had selected a suitable design, Mansfield insisted on checking the measurement for the length of the stock, and when the Admiral protested that he had had those measurements for years the gun-maker said respectfully, "You keep a youthful figure, my Lord, but —" he tapped the right shoulder, "you have put on a little flesh here, just where it makes a difference." He went behind the counter and consulted a heavy ledger, then came back again with a rule. "If you'll just lean forward slightly — ah, yes, a difference of nearly an inch ..."
The Admiral sighed. "So that's it! I haven't been happy with any of my guns lately, they just don't sit right. I thought my muscles were getting stiff."
The gun-maker nodded knowingly: "It's not unusual, my Lord. Try the new gun when I've finished it, and if you find it comfortable I suggest you return your other guns and I'll shorten and reshape the stocks accordingly. It won't affect the balance — but I can guarantee it will affect your game bag. And —"
He broke off with an apology and hurried to the door as a small but strikingly beautiful woman in a pale blue cape swept into the shop. Over her shoulder Ramage saw Hanson walking away to their carriage with a large packet holding her latest purchases. The old man was always delighted to leave his domestic duties and go off on shopping expeditions with the Marchesa: her Italian accent and bizarre and impish sense of humour reduced any shop to an excited uproar in a matter of minutes. Ramage wondered idly whether the usually staid establishment they had visited in Albemarle Street an hour earlier had managed to get all the rolls of dress material back on the shelves. The Marchesa would still be there, asking to be shown yet more cloth, if the Admiral had not called a halt by protesting that they had seen enough material to make a suit of sails for a ship of the line, and declaring that her first three choices were by far the best, even though she had changed her mind a score of times since then.
The owner of the shop, surprised to find that Admiral the Earl of Blazey could not only stop the Marchesa but do it in a way that left her laughing and agreeing with him, hurriedly scribbled down the lengths she wanted and looked still more surprised when she nodded good-bye, turned to Ramage and said: "Now let us go to Bond Street for the pistols."
The gun-maker welcomed her, guessing that she was "the Marchesa" the Admiral had mentioned, and Ramage winked at his father: the poor fellow was in for a shock. Although she was only five feet tall, with finely-chiselled features, high cheekbones and the imperious manner that befitted the ruler of the little kingdom of Volterra, her appearance gave no hint of her adventures in escaping from Bonaparte's troops when they invaded Italy. That episode had given her a surprising skill in the use of pistols and a knowledge of firearms more usual in an army officer. She could load, aim and fire a pistol with the casual elegance of a woman removing a necklace from a jewel box and placing it round her neck.
She nodded to the gun-maker and said to Ramage: "I hope you haven't chosen yet?"
"We've been waiting for you. I saw Hanson staggering off with your last purchases! Did you find all the ribbon and lace you wanted?"
"The lace I want is still in Italy. They have a poor selection here. This 'Oniton they talk about — is that the town we pass through on the way to St Kew?"
"'This Honiton,' young lady, happens to be the centre for the finest lace in this country," said the Admiral with mock indignation.
"Perhaps," she said coolly. "But if the selection they have next door is a fair example of their work, then Volterra is the centre for the finest lace in the world."
The Admiral flicked an imaginary speck of dust from the lace of his stock. "My dear Gianna, poor Nicholas and I have to make do with this — smuggled from Bruges, no doubt."
"No doubt," Gianna said tartly, eyeing the lace edge of the stock with disdain. She turned to the gun-maker. "Now, the Captain wants a matched pair of pistols. Not duelling pistols," she added, "because a hair trigger is dangerous on board a ship. Those might —"
She broke off as Ramage took her arm and led her to the far end of the counter. He knew from long experience that it was useless to tell her that even though she was paying for them and knew about pistols, it was wiser to leave the actual choice between the man who made them and the man who was going to use them. In any other woman it would have been intolerable but in Gianna it was partly her upbringing and partly a measure of her love for him. He needed a pair of pistols and she wanted to give them to him as a present to celebrate his promotion. She insisted on the best because, better than most people, she knew that his life might one day depend on how reliably and truly either or both guns shot.
Ramage pointed to the case at the end of the counter.
"The pair with hexagonal barrels," he said. "Mansfield will have to fit belt-hooks but —" he lifted one of the guns from the case and turned it on its side, so the pan was downwards — "yes, that is easy enough."
"They're very plain," Gianna said and pointed to the pair in the next case. "Look, what about these? Look at the design on the barrels — and the wood: the carving is beautiful."
"I want hexagonal barrels," Ramage said firmly. "The flat top surface makes an excellent sight when you have to shoot quickly, and I don't like a lot of fancy work on a gun."
The gun-maker heard Ramage's comment. "A pair of good plain guns with nine-inch barrels, my Lord?"
Ramage nodded. "But I'll want belt-hooks fitted. Can you do that and have them ready in three days?"
"Of course, of course. Your Lordship has chosen exactly the pair I would have recommended." He took the other gun from the case. "The safety bolt is ready for the thumb, and I've made sure it doesn't protrude so much it might catch in clothing. The stock — will you grip it, please? Yes, it fits your hand nicely. Just watch one thing, my Lord: on this model I have made the trigger guard a little wider here — you see the flare on the forward side? You need to remember that. Or," he added hurriedly, "if you find it too wide I can change it to the normal width."
Ramage ran his index finger along the guard and quickly crooked it round the trigger. "No, don't change it: that is a good idea. What about belt-hooks?"
The gun-maker excused himself and went to the workshop, returning with a case which he put down on the counter and opened. He took out one of the two pistols inside and held it out to Ramage. "The same pattern of gun, my Lord, with a belt-hook already fitted."
Gianna sniffed. "I don't like that wood so much, and anyway, I prefer gold-inlaid mounts."
"I prefer silver," Ramage said firmly, "and this darker wood — cherry, isn't it? — is more serviceable. Remember the salt air, and they'll be getting only an occasional wipe with an oily rag. No one is going to spend hours polishing them."
"Silver tarnishes," Gianna reminded him, "gold does not."
"Quite so, my Lady," the gun-maker said politely, "but ..."
"Gold inlay would not look right on this pistol," Ramage said firmly, then added in a lighter tone: "When I become an admiral you can have Mansfield make me a pair of duelling pistols with as much gold work as you like."
"By the time you are an admiral," she said crossly, "I hope you won't be depending on pistols for your life. Well, you decide what you want, I'm going to see what the Admiral has chosen." She looked at the fob watch hanging on a thin chain round her neck. "Don't forget we still have to visit Mr Prater for your sword."
When she had walked to the other end of the shop the gun-maker said: "A complete refit, sir?"
Ramage smiled ruefully. "I lost everything in the West Indies. Since then I've been using a Sea Service pistol and a cutlass, but the Marchesa decided to celebrate my promotion with ..."
Mansfield grinned conspiratorially. "Well, sir, I think you'll find these pistols are an improvement on the Sea Service! Clumsy brutes, they are."
"They have to be: they get dropped on deck and tossed into arms chests, and a seaman's idea of using a pistol is jabbing the muzzle in the enemy's belly or fetching him a bang on the head with it."
The master gun-maker shuddered and changed the subject: "I saw Mr Prater the other day when I was down at Charing Cross. He has some lovely blades now. There's such a call for them these days that he can afford to carry a good stock."
"Yes," Ramage said gloomily, "but I want a fighting sword; a solid blade slung in a shoulder belt. I have a feeling that the Marchesa will try to persuade Mr Prater that a post captain should always wear a dress sword suspended from slings on the waist-band of the breeches."
"A lot of naval gentlemen wear a broad belt over the right shoulders these days," Mansfield said. "Outside the waistcoat and under the coat. More practical, I suppose, sir, though I must admit it doesn't look so smart."
"When you're boarding an enemy ship it's more important that the scabbard doesn't get between your legs," Ramage said lightly. "Now, these pistols ..."
"Ah, well, you have all you need here, my Lord: two powder flasks — note the spring measures work easily, and be careful no one oils the springs: it is quite unnecessary, and a drop of oil in the powder ..." he warned. "Wad cutter, shot mould, box for flints — I'll fill that with a good selection; I have a new supply in from my flint knapper in Sussex — and oil bottle. Here you have the proof certificate from the Gunmakers' Company — the Proof House on Tower Wharf is a busy place these days, I can tell you! Two keys for the case ..." He picked up one of the pistols and deftly checked it over. "Rammer — that is a choice piece of horn." He tapped the pointed spiral of the metal at the other end: "I've made this wormer a little stronger than most." He cocked the gun and squeezed the trigger. "I think you'll find that a nice compromise, my Lord, not a hair trigger, but it doesn't need a wrestler's grip."
Ramage picked up the second gun, checked it over and looked at the belt-hook. It was wide and substantial, with just enough spring to slip inside a belt without sticking and yet not bind when drawn in a hurry. More important, the whole gun fitted comfortably in his hand, so that the barrel seemed an extension of his forearm.
"They'll do," he said, putting the pistol back in the case, "and you'd better give me two spare rammers. Hmm ... yes, do you have a complete spare lock?"
The gun-maker nodded and, taking an oily rag from his pocket, carefully wiped the metal of both guns before putting them back again. "Finger marks," he said, "they lead to rusting. Are you going to be away a long time, my Lord?"
"A long time, and I'm going a long way."
"The West Indies again, my Lord?"
There was nothing secret about it, so Ramage nodded. "Their Lordships like to keep me moving about!"
"You were in the Mediterranean once, were you not, sir?"
"Mediterranean, Atlantic, West Indies, back to the Atlantic ... The Admiralty is changing the pattern by sending me to the West Indies this time, instead of the Mediterranean."
Excerpted from Ramage's Diamond by Dudley Pope. Copyright © 1976 The Ramage Company Limited. 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.
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Meet the Author
Dudley Bernard Egerton Pope was born in 1925 into an ancient Cornish seafaring family. He joined the Merchant Navy at the age of sixteen and spent much of his early life at sea. He was torpedoed during the Second World War and resulting spinal injuries plagued him for the rest of his life. Towards the end of the war Pope turned to journalism, becoming the Naval and Defence Correspondent for the 'London Evening News'. At this time he also researched naval history and in time became an authority on the Napoleonic era and Nelson's exploits, resulting in several well received volumes, especially on the Battles of Copenhagen and Trafalgar. Encouraged by Hornblower creator CS Forester, he also began writing fiction using his own experiences in the Navy and his extensive historical research as a basis. In 1965, he wrote 'Ramage', the first of his highly successful series of novels following the exploits of the heroic 'Lord Nicholas Ramage' during the Napoleonic Wars. Another renowned series is centred on 'Ned Yorke', a buccaneer in the seventeenth century Caribbean and then with a descendant following the 'Yorke' family naval tradition when involved in realistic secret operations during the Second World War. Dudley Pope lived aboard boats whenever possible, along with his wife and daughter, and this was where he wrote the majority of his novels. Most of his adult life was spent in the Caribbean and in addition to using the locale for fictional settings he also wrote authoritatively on naval history of the region, including a biography of the buccaneer Sir Henry Morgan. He died in 1997 aged seventy one. 'The first and still favourite rival to Hornblower' - Daily Mirror
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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If you enjoy tales of the Napleonic wars and especially sea tales you will enjoy this next book in the Ramage series. If you have not read any of them, I would suggest that you start with the very first one. The characters and the plots all tie in through the series. Skipping around from book to book does not allow you enjoy the development of the Lord Ramage. Almost as good as the Hornblower series of novels.