Captain Lord Ramage's honeymoon in France is interrupted by a sudden end to the Peace of Amiens. Finding themselves on unfriendly soil just hours before hostilities commence, Ramage and his bride elude the grasp of Napoleon's secret police.
About 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.
Read an Excerpt
The Lord Ramage Novels, No. 13
By Dudley Pope
McBooks Press, Inc.Copyright © 1982 Dudley Pope
All rights reserved.
They were both lying, propped up by an elbow, on the bristling carpet of short, coarse grass which was fighting for its life on top of the cliff, the roots clinging desperately to the thin layer of earth and finding cracks in the rock beneath. The browning leaves struggled against a wind which, although this afternoon little more than a brisk breeze, still whipped up a fine, salty spindrift from the swell surging on to the rocks below and sent it high like invisible smoke across the top of Pointe St Mathieu.
The Atlantic swell, from this height looking like slowly rippling wrinkles, swept in lazily from the west to hit first the barrier of tiny islands and rocky shoals stretching a dozen miles from Ushant, over on their right, down to the Black Rocks, which were in front of them and five or six miles to seaward. After surrounding each rock and islet with a fussy white collar of foam, the swells rolled on inshore to smash against the front of the cliffs sixty feet below with a strangely remote booming that they felt rather than heard, like the tiny tremors of a distant earthquake.
Above them the sky was strewn with white cottonball clouds which seemed to be looking down on the rollers and the cliffs, pleased at finally making a landfall after a long but boring Atlantic crossing. But to the two pairs of eyes long accustomed to the brilliant, almost gaudy sharpness of tropical colours, the sea and sky background seemed washed out, faded and without energy.
Gulls hovered like kites on the wind currents coming up the cliff face and sometimes wheeled over them, as though curious and wanting to see why this dark-haired man and young, tawnyhaired woman should be there alone and just looking seaward, not tending cattle or sheep, their horses tethered by the reins to pieces of rock jutting like teeth. Close by, two brown and white cows cropped the grass with indifference, as though they were supposed to graze a particular area by nightfall, and knew that they were comfortably ahead of their schedule, moving so slowly that the bells round their necks only occasionally gave muffled clangs, apparently reluctant to interrupt the whine of the wind and the distant thunder of the waves.
The occasional contented sigh, the sudden indrawn breath, the gentle touch of a finger, the woman's occasional toss of the head to move strands of tawny hair that blew across her face and tickled, revealed an erotic atmosphere (though neither of them thought of the word) not entirely due to the splendid isolation of Pointe St Mathieu which, with one exception, seemed to be saying that up here, on a sunny afternoon, nature was pausing briefly at the second phase of the cycle of birth, love and death, and smiling.
The exception stood behind them, grey, stark, shadowed in the sun yet not menacing. The ruin of the old Abbey St Mathieu was still solid, the walls forming geometrically precise angles with the flying buttresses. It looked as though it had been lived in until some unpredictable giant or unexpected storm had lifted off the roof and hurled it away.
A couple of artillery batteries, one to the left and the other to the right, with their guns still in position, were the only other signs that humans had ever passed this way.
"Les Pierres Noires," Ramage commented, gesturing down at the handful of black shapes scattered in the sea below them like sheep crouching against the wind on a distant moor. "Known to the Royal Navy as the Black Rocks. It seems strange to be looking down at them from up here, from France. Having the French view ... If these were normal times — wartime, anyway, because that's all I can remember — the French lookouts up here would be watching Ushant over there" — he pointed to the rocky island just in sight, the last in a series of smaller ones leading to it like enormous stepping stones —" making sure no English ships sneaked along the Chenal du Four inside that great shoal, or round the southern end to get into the Iroise river.
"How different it looks from a British frigate!" he added, the dreaminess leaving his voice. "There'd be the Black Rocks sticking up like ancient teeth and beyond you'd see this line of cliffs with the ruins of the abbey on top. And of course Le Conquet" — he pointed to the right —" and the other villages to the north, although from the deck of a frigate the cliffs mean you can only see church towers and steeples. Le Conquet's tall open steeple: I remember that well, a cone-shaped skeleton.
"And French and English alike are here just to watch the Gullet. That's the mouth of the river down there" — he pointed over the edge of the cliff to their left —" round the corner, as it were, and running up to Brest itself."
She nodded across to the other side of the Gullet. "What's that headland over there?"
"The Camaret Peninsula, forming the south side of the Gullet, with plenty of guns to keep out rosbif trespassers. The little town of Camaret is well inland. I remember seeing Camaret Mill once, but we had gone very close in and had a scare when the wind dropped on a flood tide."
Sarah said: "All this must remind you of Cornwall."
He paused, lost for a moment in memories. "Yes, because apart from the cliffs and hills the village names would be hard to distinguish, Delabole, Perranzabuloe, Scorrier, Lanner, Lansallos, Trelill, Lanivet, Lelant, St Levan — all good Breton names: could be within 25 miles of here!"
She nodded, and he added: "And in Cornwall — Portsall, Lesneven, Lanion, Lannilis, Crozon, Plabennec, Kerlouan ..."
"It's extraordinary," she commented. "Still, I think one can distinguish the Cornish ones."
"Can you?" he smiled, eyebrows raised.
She nodded. "Oh yes, even though I'm not Cornish."
He laughed and leaned over to kiss her. "Don't be cross with your new husband because he's teasing you. The first names are Cornish — the ones you thought were Breton. All the second are here in Brittany!"
"Just listen to these: St Levan and Lesneven, Lanivet and Lannilis, Perranzabuloe and Plabennec ... the first of each pair are Cornish, the second Breton. I can forgive you for mistaking them! And Botusfleming, Lansallos, Lesnewth, Lezant, Trelill — they hardly sound very Cornish, but they are."
Sarah smoothed the olive green material of her dress, not bothering that the wind ruffled her hair. "Brest ... the blockade of Brest ... I've heard you and your father talk about it," she said thoughtfully. Her voice was deep; he reflected that he seemed to hear it with his loins, a caress rather than a sound. She was watching a bee circling a buttercup, thwarted as the breeze bent over the golden bell. "We can't see the port from here, can we?"
He shook his head. "Bonaparte's main naval base on the Atlantic coast is well up the Gullet. One has to sail in close under the cliffs (with these and other batteries pelting you if you're British in wartime) and usually there's a soldier's wind to let you run in. All the way up to Brest the Gullet narrows like a funnel and there are three forts on your larboard hand — if memory serves they're Toulbroch, Mengam and de Delec; we'll be able to see them on the way back — and one on the other side. Plus various batteries."
He half turned, resting on an elbow and looking across at the hills beyond Brest and at the ruined abbey in the foreground. It was built many centuries ago and obviously had been abandoned for at least a hundred years, but he tried to think what men had quarried the rock and hammered and chiselled the blocks to shape to build a monastery on what is one of the bleakest spots in Europe. Here during winter gales it must seem the Atlantic was trying to tear away the whole continent. Were those monks of the Middle Ages (or earlier?) scourging themselves by establishing their home on one of the windiest and most stormridden places they could find? Did they think the harshness made them nearer to God? Were they seeking absolution from nameless guilts?
"This must be the nearest point in France to Canada and America," Sarah said.
He shook his head. "Almost, but Pointe de Corsen is the most westerly." He pointed northward along the coast. "Look, it's over there, about five miles, beyond Le Conquet. Hundreds, indeed thousands of English seamen know it because it's a good mark when you're working your way through the Chenal du Four, keeping inside of Ushant and all those shoals ..."
He fell silent, looking westward, until finally Sarah touched his cheek. "Where are you now?"
He gave a sheepish laugh. "Running the Calypso into Brest with a south-west wind. Earlier I was beating in against a northeaster, with all the forts firing at me. I was scared stiff of getting in irons and drifting ashore."
"Southwick wouldn't let you do that," she said teasing.
Like Ramage, she remembered the Calypso's white-haired old master with affection. She said: "I wonder what he's doing now?"
He shook his head as if trying to drive away the thought. "By now he and the Calypso's officers and men will probably have the ship ready to be paid off at Chatham."
"What does 'paid off' really mean? I thought it was the ship, but it sounds like the men."
It was hard for him to avoid giving a bitter answer. "Officially it means removing all the Calypso's guns, sails, provisions, cordage and shot (the powder will have been taken off and put in barges on the Thames before she went into the Medway), and then the ship, empty except for a boatkeeper or two, will be left at anchor, or on a mooring. They may take the copper sheathing off the hull."
"Why 'may'?" she asked, curious.
"Well, you know the underwater part of the hull of a ship is covered with copper sheathing to keep out the teredo worm, which bores into the wood. Now some peculiar action goes on between the metals so that the ironwork of things like the rudder gets eaten away. Not only that, but after a year or so the copper starts to dissolve as well, particularly at the bow: it just gets thinner. So when a ship is laid up she is usually first drydocked and the sheathing is taken off."
"You still haven't explained 'may' — and there's a strange look on your face!"
He sighed and turned back to look at her. "Well, you know my views on this peace treaty we've signed with Bonaparte, and that neither my father nor I — nor most of our friends — believe Bonaparte truly wants peace. As a result of the treaty, he's already had more than a year to restock his arsenals and from the Baltic get supplies of mast timber and cordage, which we had cut off for years by blockading places like Brest. So now he's busy refitting his fleet: new sails, masts, yards. New ships, too. Now — or very soon — he'll be ready to start the war again."
"Yet all the French we've met in the past weeks seem happy with the peace," Sarah protested.
"We've only talked to two types — innkeepers, who smile readily enough as they take our money, and the monarchists who've returned to France from exile and have been trying to get back some of their possessions. They have to believe that Bonaparte really wants a permanent peace; otherwise they're admitting to themselves that they'll soon be exiles in England once again — only this time probably for the rest of their lives."
"You keep on saying Bonaparte will start the war again, my darling, but what proof is there? After all, the ministers in London aren't fools!"
"Aren't they? Have you met Addington or any of his cabinet? And Lord Whitworth, the British minister in Paris, can't have looked out of the embassy window — or else they're ignoring his despatches in London."
"The British government might be stupid and the French innkeepers greedy, but that hardly proves Bonaparte is going to war again!"
"Perhaps not, but we'll know for sure when we ride back through the port of Brest. Will the sight of men-o'-war being refitted in large numbers convince you?"
"Nicholas, why did you propose Brittany for the last part of our honeymoon?" she asked suspiciously.
"Don't you like it?" He was suddenly anxious, the picture of a nervous bridegroom anxious for his bride's comfort. "The weather is fine. Not much choice of food, I admit, but the inns are not full of our countrymen — they go directly to Paris!"
"You haven't answered my question!"
Her eyes, green flecked with gold, were not angry; they did not warn that she felt cheated or duped. It was obvious she would accept it if he gave the real reason. Only evasions or half-truths would upset her, although good food was rarely spoiled by being served on fine china. He leaned over and kissed her. "I have another wife," he confessed solemnly. "I married you bigamously."
She undid the top two buttons of her dress, recently collected from a French dressmaker using materials Sarah had brought with her from England. "The sun has some warmth in it, if you wait long enough, but not enough to tan. Yes," she said matter-offactly, "I knew about that when you first proposed. Anyway, your mother warned me. In fact she used almost the same words. She said what a shock it had been for her as a new bride when she realized that her husband had another wife. She was very relieved that I already knew about you and your first bride, the navy."
"Well, we met under unusual circumstances."
She blushed as he reached over and undid the next two buttons of her dress, pulling back the soft material so that he could see her breasts.
"Bonaparte has done one thing for us — the French fashions help lovers," he said, and kissed a nipple, touching it with his tongue so it stiffened.
It was strange, she reflected, that you held your husband naked in bed; you even walked round the bedroom naked in front of him, and it all seemed quite natural. Yet out here in the sunshine, lying on the grass with bare breasts, she felt shy, as though this was the first time that Nicholas had unfastened a button. But how right he was about French fashions! Unlike in London, bare arms in the drawing rooms were commonplace here and very few French women of fashion bothered with corsets, although those sensitive of their plumpness wore narrow stays. And the flimsy materials! Often they were almost transparent, and most respectable women wore petticoats, but she had seen several women who passed for respectable wearing dresses that revealed their whole body when they stood against the light, and it was quite extraordinary how often they found themselves in front of a window. Still, anything was welcome that freed women from the constriction of corsets: why should women have to live as though squeezed in a wine press for the sake of fashion? Nevertheless, she pictured some women she knew and imagined them freed of corsets: it would be like slitting the side of a sack of corn!
She felt her breasts hardening as he pretended to inspect her nipples for the first time, commenting on their colour and size. Did he really like large nipples?
"Very well," she said, concentrating with great effort, "so the navy is your first wife and you are honeymooning in Brittany with your second on secret business. What business?"
"It's no secret," he protested. "Our passeports are in order: the French authorities admitted us — welcomed, almost — to the country, enchanted that we are on our honeymoon, so if I happen to be able to count up the number and type of ships being fitted out in Brest, and perhaps La Rochelle and L'Orient ... well, that would be only the natural curiosity of a couple interested in ships and the sea. After all, you have only just completed a voyage to India and back, and you love looking at ships — don't you?"
"Of course, dearest," she said with a smile. "And having closely inspected my breasts, taken my virginity, counted the ships and returned to London at the end of your honeymoon, what do you report to whom — and why? Surely the Admiralty must know what is going on in the French ports?"
"If not what happens on nearby clifftops. No, the Admiralty as such is not the problem. The man who seems to be completely hoodwinked by Bonaparte is the First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord St Vincent. He's laying up ships of the line and frigates. That in itself doesn't matter so much because they could be commissioned again in a few weeks, but he's letting go all the prime seamen: they are being turned loose and are just disappearing like chaff in the wind, looking for work. You can commission all the ships again in a month and get them to sea — providing you have the seamen."
Excerpted from Ramage's Devil by Dudley Pope. Copyright © 1982 Dudley Pope. Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press, Inc..
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
"Ramage's Devil" is number 13 in the series of 18. I have read through #15 (Ramage's Challenge). All of the Ramage series books are packed full of action, have masterful plots and excellent character development. The only criticism I have with the series is that the author sometimes spends more time than I think necessary describing the terra firma landsmarks! Parts of some books could be used as travelogues. Fortunately, Dudley Pope explains in great detail, painting a clear visual picture, the intricacies of ship handling under sail, the difficult life of sailors, the violence of naval battle and the arbitrary nature of England's Admiralty Board and "Articles of War." This book is well balanced on all accounts. I judge it one of the best in the series. I am not sure, but I guess that the intended audience is 12 years old and above. If you Start at #1 ("Ramage") you will be hooked for the rest.
The continuing saga of Lord Ramage has an added twist that is not in any of his other advendtures. If you have read #12 you can probably guess what that twist is. If you haven't and try and read this on its own then you are going wonder how the charecters got to where hey are. This is one of those series of books where it it important to that you keep in sequence. As with all of the books this one is very exciting. It starts out a bit slow and you start to wonder where the author is going with this one. It takes a while, but once it gets going it is a vey interesting and fun book to read. I have just ordered 14 and 15 to read.