Выбрать главу


Ramage At Trafalgar

(#16 in Ramage series)

For the Glass family with memories of Italy


In this novel culminating at Trafalgar, all the facts concerning Nelson and the Battle are true: only the events surrounding Ramage are fiction. Of all the ships in the Battle only the Victory remains.

Dudley Pope

Yacht Ramage

French Antilles


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 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 welclass="underline" 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, four-square 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 packhorses 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 a 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.