A Captain's Dream by Chris James

A Captain's Dream

by
Chris James

Author’s Note:

I would be remiss if I did not mention the source of this short story and the two men who inspired its creation. First, I commend the works of Patrick O’Brian (1914-2000), an English novelist and scholar, who wrote the most amazing sea stories. His work stands today as one of the most accurate portrayals of the English Navy in the time of sailing ships.

But as I began to write romance/adventure stories I needed a place to begin posting them. About eight years ago, while I was living in North Carolina, I searched the web for a local gay story site and came across TarheelWriter. It was the webmaster, Jevic, who embraced my work and inspired this story.

His site is still there hosting my stories, of which he now has a dozen. But as we corresponded, I came to know that Jevic is the sailor I shall never be. His conversations inspired me to sit down one weekend and write this story in his honor, and now having said that I can share this with you.

The original is posted on TarheelWriter and dedicated to him, but that version is still filled with the gaffes of an earlier time when I was in a hurry to publish. Now I have made the necessary corrections and additions which I hope will increase the pleasure of your journey with my characters.

Broad sails snapped in the morning breeze, and the harsh voice of the bosun’s mate carried across the deck as he prodded the crew to tighten the rigging. The two-masted brig was making way towards the distant cloud bank that signaled France. A refreshing change of scenery from the rolling waves of the stormy Atlantic they had endured for weeks.

Captain Block stood facing the sunrise off the starboard side of the quarterdeck, listening to the voices of the crew going about their duties. But his mind was not on his ship as it should be, and so he turned, noting the heading on the compass and giving the nod to his duty midshipman as he moved to the forward rail.

H.M.S. Androcles was a fine ship despite her age. She had fought well against pirates and potentates in the past thirty years, but His Majesty’s Navy would not see fit to retire her any time soon. Block figured that from all the ceaseless repairs over time, and under a dozen different captains, that she had been rebuilt from stem to stern since leaving the shipyard.

Now, despite the incessant pounding of the carpenter’s hammer somewhere in the depths of the ship, he was trying to enjoy one of the few solitary moments of his day. It gave him precious time to ponder the events of the night before.

He should be down in his cabin this very second dictating the record of the engagement with the French brig a fortnight ago. The Admiral would want to see that once they arrived and took station with the blockading fleet. But he could not take his mind off the boy. It was weakness at a moment of high stress, a total distraction from the reality of life around him…and he had welcomed it.

A slender creature had slipped into his bed in the hour before midnight. Block remembered coming awake at the feeling of a warm body beside him as the boy slipped under the covers.

He had heard that sometimes one of the ship’s boys will sleep walk and that problem was usually solved by strapping the lad into his hammock. Was this idle fellow aware he was in the captain’s bed?

At that time of night it had been pitch dark and he could not discern the color of the boy’s hair, the shape of his brow, or any other means of recognizing the lad. The warm nakedness of the boy’s skin as it pressed against his chest and thigh had aroused him. So long, it had been so long since he had felt that way.

The boy’s hands had caressed his breast and slid down his stomach to grasp at Block’s rising manhood. Such action was worthy of hanging in His Majesty’s Navy, sodomy was damn near top of the list. And yet the boy was sure of himself as his head slid beneath the covers and his warm mouth found what it had been seeking.

Block had gasped at the sudden feeling of sexual delight, his cock swelling to the fullest extent, and yet the boy didn’t hesitate. He felt like giving in to the pressure but the boy suddenly pulled his mouth away. A quick move and the lad had turned over, the crease of his ass rubbing against Block’s hugely stiff prick. The lad groaned deeply as the head found its mark.

The heat of the boy’s gut made Block shudder and he found himself thrusting upwards. It had been an age since he had felt anything like this. His issue spewed forth in incredible ecstasy, and then he lay back trembling in the dark. How long had it been since he had derived such pleasure from his cock? Who was this man-child?

As if reading the captain’s mind, the boy had slid from the bed and padding on bare feet slipped out the door. Block thought of ordering him back but the boy had departed before he could open his mouth, and for that he was relieved. What could he have said? A thank you for sure, but a divine mystery had unfolded in his bed. It could only be hoped that the boy would take it upon himself to remain silent about the encounter.

He searched his mind for clues to the lad’s identity. He had felt no beard rough against his loins, so it must be one of the younger set. But as the lad lay against him he had felt a certain height that the youngsters on board could not match. A stranger perhaps? No, there was only the crew aboard, no unknown faces for these many months.

And so Block appeared to watch the sunrise as he glanced at the midshipmen on the lower deck. It could very well have been one of these boys. He couldn’t rule that out but it seemed absurd. Would one of these pre-eminent sons of influential men sneak into the great cabin and virtually assault his captain? Impossible.

Young Mister Morris was about the right height and weight, but he was only fourteen and Block didn’t think his moment of puberty had arrived quite yet. He recalled feeling a sizable stiffness pressed against his leg last night. No, he would have guessed sixteen or seventeen to be about the right age. But then that made the pool wider.

Mister Tompkins was a more likely candidate. A forward boy but commendably first in almost every contest amongst his peers, a trait Block admired. Sixteen years old, he was a boy beyond the threshold of manhood and gloriously self aware. Ridiculous, his father was Lord Tompkins and a peer.

There were also more than a dozen ship’s boys that catered to the needs of the ship. He was sure some of them had engaged in sexual escapades with the crew, which was often a source of tension aboard ship. But which of them would have the courage to approach his captain…and how did the boy know he would accept?

Block was sure not another soul in Admiral Yates’ fleet was aware of the duality of his sexual habits. There had been several women of good breeding in his past with whom sex was something to be endured. In fact, he had been married to one of them for three years until she died of pneumonia. Despite her family’s grief, their union had done wonders at increasing his standing within the Admiralty.

But there had been dozens of young men over the years. Quick affairs held in tiny overnight quarters purchased for the singular event. There were no questions asked, just coins changing hands. The boys did it for money and he never asked their age.

Not that he was so uncouth as to desire mere children, the horror of it. No, youth was desired for its energy between the sheets, and a Naval Captain with a mighty appetite never had to look hard to find a likeable young man…unless he was at sea. He had never dared choose a lad for bedding from the crew. It was unthinkable, at least until now.

Again he felt certain that the boy knew how he would respond, but from whence came this knowledge? Block nodded to the officer of the watch and went below to his cabin. He picked up his pen to continue writing the report and stopped. What if the boy had been one of his hires from the past?

It was not too hard to imagine an enterprising lad obtaining a position as ship’s boy. What were his intentions? Blackmail? Maybe one of them had recognized something in him, but they had not seen an English port these past two years. He didn’t believe in coincidence, and this boy already knew his preferences.

His thoughts went back to the midshipmen’s berth. If it was one of those eight youngsters then he was in distress. These boys were officers in training, the future of the Navy. Any dalliance with them was bound to catch notice amongst the other officers. A ship at sea was too small a community for such things to go unnoticed for long.

His position and even his life were at risk here. Think man, Block told himself, how can you identify this boy? Certainly he could then shift the boy’s watch and keep him at work under supervision. Obviously the lad was not on the night watch and that narrowed it down.

The hand around his manhood had been calloused, but all the sailors aboard suffered the same fate. He searched his mind for a recollection of smell but everyone shared a severe musk from the lack of proper bathing while on station. No, he had no clue as of yet but he would keep his eyes open. Maybe the boy would reveal himself?

And then what? This was a dangerous game and one he was not likely to win. It saddened him that his steward, Able Johns, had been swept overboard during heavy storms off the French coast the week before. But the man had slept in the cubby under the stairs and the boy would never have been able to get into the captain’s quarters past Able’s watchful eye.

Block then had a thought. If he could find the boy then he could move the lad into the steward’s post temporarily until this cruise was over. No one would suspect that the lad was anything but a servant befitting the captain’s position. Then it wouldn’t matter if he were ship’s boy or an able bodied seaman.

Block tossed aside his pen and made his way back to the deck. The crew was all at work around the ship except for the night watch in their hammocks. The boy had to be amongst this lot and so he began to prowl in search of his midnight companion.

He came upon three boys on their knees scraping at rust spots on the anchor windlass under the watchful eye of the ship’s carpenter. The boys were never allowed to speak to the captain unless he spoke to them first, and then they should only answer respectfully to his questions. The carpenter stepped up and brought his knuckles to his forehead in what passed for a salute.

“Mornin’ sir,” he said. “Afraid we’ll be needin’ to overhaul the pawls on the winch right soon we see port. Bloody rust is makin’ headway this time around.”

“Right you are, Chips,” Block replied. “Another six months on this station and we’ll be due a port visit, but don’t count on it. Looks like your lads have a handle on the situation.”

The boys grinned at the compliment but didn’t look their captain in the eye. Block moved on and heard the carpenter swear at the boys. “Captain gives you a bleedin’ good for it and all you can do is drool and dawdle. Put your minds to work or I’ll set you in the chain locker a scapin’ for the next week.”

His eyes had sized up the boys but none of them looked old enough to be his special visitor. The boys aboard ranged in age from seven to seventeen, the younger ones being given jobs as powder monkeys servicing the great guns ranging in twin rows, eighteen along each side. The powder magazine below decks was accessed through a small scuttle and the boy’s small size made them perfect for the duty. Block also liked to think they took up little space aboard and made small targets for enemy riflemen when the action got close.

Lord, how he loved the heat of battle. Only days before that French brig had turned tail when she realized how well the Androcles could fight. Outgunned, the Frenchman had cast one last volley at them before running towards land. The lucky shots had unseated several of the sixteen-pounders on the forward deck, gashing a huge hole in the port side and killing four men.

Block had called for hard-a-starboard just seconds before the mighty crash rendered the bulwarks on the gun deck a horror of flying splinters and human parts. It had saved his life at the expense of others as the shots would have cleared the quarterdeck. But somehow he knew that final broadside would come, he would have done the very same in the Frenchman’s shoes.

He’d lost the engagement but saved the ship. His fortunate turn had also saved their rudder from certain destruction. Any thought about giving chase was futile as the Frenchman had the advantage of wind and a close harbor, it would serve no purpose. Instead they had retreated to make repairs and reset the guns. There would be another day for Frenchy.

He looked at the repairs and saw that the guns had already been reset and lashed in place. The smell of fresh paint still lingered in his senses as he moved towards the forecastle and heard the sound of arguing beneath the deck.

“Did not, you little bastard,” a rough voice cried.

“It was me mate’s knife and I intend to keep it,” a younger voice replied.

“You’ll be over the side for that,” the first voice said.

Block recognized the rough bark of a gunner’s mate but the boy’s voice was unfamiliar. He bent over and looked down the scuttle opening where saw two crew members in the bow storeroom. The gunner’s mate was crouched in a threatening position, knife in hand. A mere yard away a boy lay against the bulkhead, hands held before him to ward off the blows. The gunner’s mate seemed about to strike when Block roared out his command.

“Cease and desist, Mr. Watling. Consider yourself under arrest at this very moment.”

Watling looked up, startled, but his hand dropped and the knife clattered to the deck. “Aye, aye, Captain,” he said.

The commotion and Block’s voice brought the master-at-arms running to the bow. Watling allowed himself to be led away towards the brig as Block looked down on the frightened boy.

“Climb up, lad,” he said and reached a hand down to assist the boy. Was it this one perhaps? The boy pulled himself up and quickly stood at attention.

“Grayson, sir…ship’s boy,” the lad said. This was the proper way of reporting to an officer. But not just any officer, this time it was the Captain, and Grayson’s face showed the immense fear he had for such high ranking personage.

“Stand at ease, Grayson. Now tell me why I have just had to lock up one of my gunner’s mates?”

“Uh…sir, he took my knife…oh, it should have been mine, sir. Mr. Wilkes said I should have it if…if anything happened to him.” The lad’s lower lip quivered as if he were about to burst into tears. It would be unseemly for Block to allow one of his crew to go blubbering into tears while on duty.

“Ah, I see,” he said. “Mr. Wilkes was lost last week in our action against the Frenchman. But his possessions were to be sold by his messmates, how did the knife get overlooked?”

“And he did give it to me with his own hand before he passed, sir,” Grayson said. A few tears flowed now and Block felt a sudden urge to comfort the lad.

“And did someone witness the gift?”

“My mates did, sir. We serviced 'Old Sureshot’ together before the…the bastard Frenchman got her upended.”

“So you were on Mr. Wilkes’ gun crew and thus his messmate as well, the gift is well within tradition. I will see Mr.Watling is given his just desserts for stealing it from you.”

“Oh sir, he is just upset at me, he didn’t mean to be so cross.”

“But stealing is a hanging offense. Did you know that, Grayson?”

“Oh, no, sir. Please, it would be a great loss to the crew, sir. Is there no way to stop him from hanging?”

“It is always the Captain’s discretion in time of war to set aside such harsh judgment. The needs of the ship are more important and we seem to be shy a few gun crews at the moment. So you seek clemency for Mr. Watling? How kind of you, lad.”

Oh, if only this were the boy, Block thought. Physically he was just the right size,

his ruddy face like a sweet angel. But there was no way to tell, no clue that might solve the dilemma.

“Go about your duties, Grayson. We will speak of this later,” Block said.

“Aye, aye, Captain,” the lad replied, his knuckles brushing his eyebrow in a salute.

Damn, if only, Block thought. He sighed and resumed his inspection of the repairs. What did he expect? Did he think the secret visitor would just step up and claim his status? Sodomy was a sure leap to the hangman’s noose and only a fool would embrace such an end.

Maybe he thought he would see something in a lad’s eye, some gleam of recognition, some glimmer of sly reminder. But Block could not shake the remembrance of those warm thighs and delicate hands. Too much thinking like that and he would surely go mad in his quest for the boy.

The French coast lay like a smudge of cloud along the starboard side as they headed north-east to find the rest of the blockading fleet. The Admiral would be concerned at their delayed return from patrol, but the fresh paint on the bow would tell him of their recent engagement. And as Androcles raised the fleet on the horizon Block could almost feel the eyes upon them from afar.

Several hours later they hove to on the port side of the Admiral’s flagship. H.M.S.Behemoth was a cruel hulk that should have been cast aside years before. Block slid into his best uniform in response to the Admiral’s signal to repair aboard the flagship. The small gig boat was manned smartly and the crew put their backs into it as they rowed him across the light swell to the side of the massive old lady.

The ritual of ropes and side-boys was carried out as Block climbed the boarding ladder. He never enjoyed visiting this old hulk or the man in charge of her. It reminded him too much of those years when he served as Midshipman Block on just such a ship in the Mediterranean fleet. Had the Moroccan pirates known what an old scallywag their flagship had been at the time the war would have soon been lost. But the English Navy had persevered, and luck had been on their side.

Old ships and older sailors it seemed could still rule the waves. Block smiled as he returned the salute towards the quarterdeck aft. He was escorted below where he handed his report to the Admiral’s clerk and stood waiting outside the great man’s cabin. The Marine sentry beside the door looked all spit and polish despite having been on this station for almost two years.

Finally the door opened and Block was allowed into the great cabin. Yates was sitting at his desk in a dressing gown and Block was surprised at the Admiral’s apparent lack of uniform. Then the great man sneezed and his aide handed him a clean handkerchief.

“Sorry to keep you waiting, Block. This blasted sinus condition has kept me down for most of the week. So, had a go with the French I see,” he said, glancing at the report before him. “Blasted cowards, all smoke and no fire.”

“She was a well-built little brig, Admiral,” Block said. “I believe her crew was too green and the ship’s handling seemed to indicate an inexperienced captain at the helm. Although there was at least one gunner’s mate with his wits about him, we lost four able hands. I suppose they are vetting some newer men now that they are building ships again. It could soon be the time when they force our hand, sir.”

“Yes, yes, I hear that all the time now. But our intelligence is still too poor at assessing when they might consider breaking the blockade. New ships be damned, I say. We have them outgunned if they would but stand and fight. You of all my officers know that best, Mr. Block.”

“These little forays are just training exercises, Admiral. They won’t risk a full engagement for quite some time.”

“Bah, and so we sit, our hulls eaten by worms and our crews existing on foul rations. Thank God the grog is holding out or we’d…well, no need to go into that. Commendable action, Block, another pip next to your name, I’m sure.”

The Admiral blew his nose and tossed the handkerchief on the corner of his desk. “I’ll give you a few days to re-supply and then it’s back down south for you to keep an eye on the bastards. Maybe you’ll get a chance at that Frenchy again, who knows? But take her in hand if you can, it would make a nice present for His Majesty and Mrs. Yates would thank you I’m sure.”

Block smiled inwardly. The Admiral’s portion of the reward in such an action would surely keep his wife in furs and perfume for some time to come. But probably not as much as either of them would like. The Navy would turn the ship and enlist her on the rolls. French brigs were too well built to ignore when the English fleet was rotten to the core from all this blockade duty.

Block returned to Androcles and ordered the move to re-supply from the store ships that sat drifting with the fleet. Evening was fast approaching and the ships spread out to avoid collision during the night. The blasted fog was already drifting in off the coast and Block wondered if the French still kept a worried eye on them from the shore.

Maybe the boy would return tonight? And if that happened, should he seize the lad and light a candle to discover his identity? No, then they would both have to face the reality of their dark assignation. But how long could they keep it a secret? Damn, who was this sumptuous lad?

Block had the luxury of not standing a watch, deferring to his Lieutenants while stationed with the fleet. He had retired early, hoping to read from his growing library of captured books. Thank God his mother had taught him French as a child. The few prizes they had taken in the past several years had yielded a treasure trove of Captain’s libraries.

But the candlelight soon made his eyes tired and the words seemed to blur on the page. He dismissed his temporary steward, knowing full well the man would be off casting dice in the cook’s scullery within the hour. Foul man, gambling was a vice he did not possess, or did he? Surely his secret desire for young men was a mortal vice of which there was no cure.

Block removed his uniform and laid his head on the cushion. The slow rocking of the ship told him the offshore breeze was slight and that they were keeping a steady pace with the fleet towards the northern point of their assignment. He wouldn’t even awake when the officer of the watch made their turn back south. The rhythm of station life was thoroughly ingrained by now.

The creak of timbers formed a steady background to the hum of the crew going about their business. Block had almost gone to sleep when he heard the quiet scratching sound at his door. He sat up as the door slowly opened and closed. It was the boy, he had returned, but how? Had anyone seen him enter? How did he navigate the deck without at least some junior officer catching sight of him?

As if the lad knew he was about to ask, Block felt a hand raised to his lips.

“Please…quiet, sir.”

“Grayson…is that you, lad?” Block whispered between the boy’s fingers.

Silence followed the question and slowly the hand withdrew.

“Yes sir, it is I.”

Block felt the boy press against his neck and the warmth flooded him with emotion. “Why, boy…why?” he whispered.

But even as the question left his lips, Block felt the lad press him down on the cushions and crawl on top. Fingers sought out the shape of his head and the boy stretched upwards, his lips coming in contact with his Captain’s chin and then his mouth.

The kiss was exquisite in its gentleness and warmth. Block returned the kiss and encircled the boy’s slender form with his arms. He was surrendering to a ship’s boy; perhaps the worst defeat a Captain could perform, but just what his heart said to do. Grayson drew his fingers across Block’s rough beard and yet the kiss still lingered.

Block could feel that the lad was naked as the day he was born, and yet the stiffness he felt against his belly was not that of any child. Grayson withdrew his lips and Block felt no desire to question the lad further, later maybe. He felt quite aroused as the lad helped him lift off his nightshirt and lay upon his chest. The sudden meeting of their skins brought forth a rush of desire.

As before the boy ran his fingers to the stiffness lying swollen against Block’s belly and grasped his prize. Those tender lips kissed their way southwards and the boy eased his mouth around Block’s member. The soft wet heat made Block moan with pleasure and his fingers reached out, grasping the boy’s mane of thick hair. The lad had great experience and knew when to cease his oral ministrations before triggering a discharge.

But as Grayson went to rise and fulfill his desires Block stopped him.

“No hurry is there?” he asked in hushed tones.

“No sir, I won’t be missed now that Mr. Wilkes is…”

Grayson became silent. He had slipped and given away his former partner in crime. So Wilkes had been at the lad before me, Block thought. And suddenly he understood Grayson’s need and appearance in his bed. The lad was still in grief over the loss. But why Wilkes?

“You risked a great deal coming here like you did, Grayson. How did you know that I would accept your attentions and not clap you in irons?”

“I shouldn’t say,” Grayson said, “But I don’t suppose it matters much now…”

“Wilkes…did he send you?” Block hissed. Wilkes, what had he known? Worse, who did he tell?

“Mr. Wilkes lay dying, sir, when he told me of you. He was just a lad when you first met him outside the tavern in Plymouth. He told me of your gentle nature, sir, and how a boy with my desires could please a man of your position if only it was kept close.”

“Wilkes and I…?”

“Oh yes, sir, years ago. He said you were a wonderful man and he had never felt such kindness as when he lay in your arms. And it has all been true, sir, I am grateful for his guidance.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t remember him as a lad,” Block said.

“It was when you were in Brightly, sir. He said you were a Lieutenant back then and he often saw you coming and going from the port. He was my age, sir, but seventeen when you first met.”

“Wilkes?” Block knew he should remember the man as a lad, there had not been all that many so that he might forget the face. And then it came to him. “Robert Wilkes,” he said aloud. Yes, he remembered now.

“Yes, Robert,” Grayson said. “Oh sir, he said he worked hard to gain a position so that he might serve under you to repay your kindness. And when he signed on with Androcles it was his dream fulfilled. He brought me with him but said not a word about you until he lay dying.”

Grayson let out a sob and Block felt the boy’s tears on his chest. Poor lad, he was lost without his mate. Robert Wilkes, he now had a clear image of the young man who had been such a joy for that one short winter.

Block wiped the tears from Grayson’s face, wishing he had the courage to light a candle and behold the lad in all his beauty. “And where did Wilkes chance upon meeting you?” he asked.

Grayson gave a sniffle, his tears abated at the question before him. “He took me in from the streets where I was as an orphan boy. They turned me out of the home at fourteen, sir. Said I ate too much. I would have froze like so many others if not for his kindness. 'One good turn deserves another,’ Mr. Wilkes often said, but I had no thought to the meaning of his words until now.”

“This is a deadly game we play, young sir. And what is your given name, Grayson?”

“My mother died at my birth, sir, or as I was told of it, and I never knew my father. I have been called many names, sir, some of them most unkind.”

“But you are the essence of youthful beauty, you deserve a grand name. And what did Mr. Wilkes call you in your most private of moments?”

Grayson softly giggled and the sound of his mirth gave great joy to Block’s heart. “He called me 'Sweetmeat’, sir. So silly it was, but he said I tasted of sugar to his lips. And what would you call me, sir?”

“Well, sweetmeat is a bit much, I was thinking of a resounding name, one of quality that will ask you to live up to the great expectations of our livelihood. How about Stuart Grayson? A grand name, one surely comparable with any famous Admiral in the whole of the Navy.”

“And what should I do that would earn me such a large responsibility?” Grayson asked.

“Why at first you shall be my steward, Stuart Grayson. It will allow me to teach you of life and to keep a close eye on your education as well.”

“A steward? But how…are there not others more qualified?”

“For the job, yes, but none more able to warm my bed and keep our secret.”

“Oh, sir, you are all that poor Mr. Wilkes said and more,” Stuart said.

“The Navy is a dangerous place for a lad, Stuart. Yes, I like the sound of that name. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that you were lucky the shot that took our Mr. Wilkes did not reach out for you as well. The gun deck is no place safe for you, my lad.

You will grow older by many years if you live in the cabin here with me.”

“But you stand upon the quarterdeck, sir, a most dangerous place when we are fighting. The crew fears for you in every engagement,” Stuart said.

“The weight of my responsibility is not your concern, lad. A Captain must be seen to command in the heat of battle. No coward could ever shun his duty upon the quarterdeck and call himself Captain. But look at us now, we are on interminable blockade and the French are drinking wine in their taverns. What fight do you see that makes you so afraid?”

“I would be lost without you, sir.”

“No man had a finer epitaph than that. Let’s just hope it never needs to be engraved in stone. And what were we about a few moments ago?”

Stuart giggled and they resumed their embrace.

Epilogue…it is now ten years later, and yet the war with France continues:

The captain’s gig rowed towards the side of the 72-gun flagship. She had been on station only a few weeks and the shipbuilders still remained aboard to finish the bright work. H.M.S. Armageddon lay emblazoned on her stern above the rudder post.

The Captain smiled as he approached the towering side of the ship. A new addition to the fleet, would wonders never cease. She even smells new, he thought, as he clambered aboard. The side-boys awaiting his arrival piped him up the side.

“Welcome aboard, Captain,” Lieutenant Tolliver said in greeting. They smiled at one another. “You are one lucky bastard,” Tolliver said under his breath. At that they both looked across water at the French-built brig that was now under the Captain’s command. “She’s beautiful,” Tolliver said aloud.

They both saluted the quarterdeck and Tolliver led the way below to the Admiral’s cabin. “She sails as neat a line as one could want,” the Captain said. Their short walk was full of conversation about the technical details and sailing ability of the captured ship.

“The Admiral will see you now,” an aide said at the Captain’s side.

A quick knock and the Captain stepped into the grand salon that stretched across the stern of the ship.

“That will be all, Mr. Jenkins,” the Admiral said, and his aide left them alone.

“You did a fine job capturing that ship. She has been on my mind many a year and finally I feel vindicated that she is ours at last.”

“Request permission to speak freely, Admiral.”

“Yes, Stuart, you may do so.”

“I would like to rename the ship Sureshot in honor of Mr. Wilkes, if the Admiral concurs.”

“I’ll see what I can do about that, anything else?”

“I’m not used to being called Captain quite yet, only yesterday it was Lieutenant

Grayson.”

“You’ve come a long way, Stuart, my boy,” Block said, “but haven’t we both?”

Stuart looked over at the door and Block smiled. “They won’t disturb us quite yet.”

The Captain and the Admiral embraced, their lips meeting and the sudden warmth of old friends flowing between them.

“You’re poking me with your sword, Stuart,” Block said with a grin.

“I was hoping we might think of something better this evening,” Stuart replied.

“All things are possible in the Navy, my dear. For rank hath its privilege, you know.”