China Boat

Chapter 24

All they that love not Tobacco and Boys are fools.

-Attributed to Christopher Marlowe, Elizabethan playwright, poet and spy, 1564 — 1593

Come live with me, and be my Love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That hills and valleys, dales and fields,
And woods or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the rocks,
And see the shepherds feed their flocks
By shallow rivers, to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies …

-From The Passionate Shepherd to His Love.
Christopher Marlowe, Elizabethan playwright, poet and spy, 1564 — 1593

* * *

Saturday, April 24th, 1937
2:11 a.m.
S.S. President Hoover
at sea

"Wow," from Tom; in a hushed voice. "This is … kind of weird … "

"I know."

'This' was the Promenade Deck, at two o'clock in the morning. Pitch-darkness, outside the big windows; fully lit, inside. And not a living soul to be seen, other than ourselves.

"It's a little spooky, isn't it?" More hushed tones, from him.


The ship had been mostly empty, on the stretch from San Francisco to Honolulu … but nothing like this.

We'd already been up to the Sun Deck, and done a circuit, walking in complete solitude; with just the roar of the engine-room fans, and the rush of the wind, and the sound of the ship pushing through the water, for company. Then we'd climbed down the stairs, past the deserted, brilliantly-lit swimming pool, down here to the Promenade Deck.

And, not a soul. We might as well have been on a ghost ship.

"I think I like it," he said; almost whispering.

I looked at him sideways.



Tom was staying with me, tonight; Mickey was being impossible … 

Or so he'd been told. I couldn't help wondering if, just perhaps, his parents wanted a private night, together; the kind of intimate privacy that any couple needs. Mickey was much too young to know or care about such things.

I wondered if Tom had thought about that possibility. I hoped not; nobody wants to think about their parents' sexual lives … 


He had his own life, his own future, to think about.


We were back to the conversation we'd started, yesterday, the one Mister Grey had interrupted. It was a conversation that needed its own privacy; and the quiet, the solitude, and the eerily-late hour just seemed to intensify everything.

The questions, the confessions, had been coming from Tom, in fits and starts.

" … but I don't know anyone like me — like you and me, I mean — back home! I don't think there are any … " His face, in profile, was pinched.

"Well, there are," I said; in the same, low voice. "We're everywhere, you know … You must have some suspicions, at least. About some of your classmates, maybe — ?"

He looked up, and then back down, as we walked. A long pause, from him.

"There were these two boys, in seventh grade, last year … " It came out, as even more of a whisper. "They were friends … and they were — different." A quick glance sideways, at me. "They were kind of girly. They were girlish … the way they talked, the way they moved … " His face turned to mine; anxious. "The other guys made fun of them."

I winced a little, inside, in sympathy for his former classmates.

"But … I'm not like that! And you're not like that!"

We rounded a corner of the Promenade Deck, and started back astern. Through the windows, I could see the Library, brilliantly lit, and deserted.

"No; no, we aren't. And neither is Jack … "

Charles, however, was a somewhat different story. Not that it mattered, to us, in the slightest.

"I don't really know," I went on, after a second or two. "But I think there are, maybe, different types of us; of homosexuals, I mean … "

A mute, sideways-glance from Tom. I smiled at him, sideways.

"In my school, we do a lot of acting … the Houses put on skits, at breakfast, all the time; and there are two major plays, each Term. Everyone is expected to take some part or other, even if only as an extra."

"Yeah — ?" from Tom, as I paused.

"Um-hmmm … And that means, there are lots of female parts to play; and, we're an all-boys school, of course … "

Another mute pause. Tom looked momentarily horrified; I shrugged, and smiled to myself, at his expression.

"Jack's played female roles a few times … but only in comedies. He does it for the laughs, really, because he's so bad at it." I smiled again, at some of the memories. "I don't play those parts, because, well, — I can't. I've tried. There's just something missing in me … There's just some feminine quality, some sensibility, that I lack."

I glanced sideways at him. I had his full attention.

"Jack says I have something of a blind spot, when it comes to girls, when it comes to women … that I don't notice them enough, I don't pay enough attention to them. And he says, that's going to get us in trouble someday, when it comes to passing … "

Passing for heterosexuals, in other words.

Jack means it, too. He's tried to help me, a few times. The Mixer was to have been a test, of sorts.

"But the point of all of this is … " I smiled back over at him. "If I can't do skirt roles at all, and if Jack isn't that good at them — we have some classmates who are very good at them, indeed. They are extremely convincing, as girls, and women … "

A brief pause.

"Yeah — ?"

More memories of school, flooding in.

In point of fact, there was — is — a small, but regular corps of our classmates, who compete for the best female roles … 

And once awarded, the competition for realism within the roles becomes fierce. There is clothing and makeup, from sisters and other relatives, smuggled in; even some wigs, and hair-weaves, which are far superior to anything in our costume-trunks. The smallest gestures are practiced and scrutinized, over and over again; poses are struck, with great dramatic flair — 

And the results are striking. The best of them — like Cray, of Pettit and Cray; the two friends who had been found out, sent down and separated — well. Cray had been utterly convincing, in his female roles.

Jack and I thought his skills had something to do with his downfall. Their downfall.

"Yes … and most of them are members of our tribe. Even if they are not quite like you and I."

Another long pause, as we walked aft, past the deserted Continental Lounge.

"The two boys at my school … They kind of gave me the creeps … " This, now, in the softest whisper of all. His head, down.

I shrugged.

"Jack and I think they are to be honored. They are homosexuals like us, in a hostile world … But unlike us, they can't hide; they can't pretend. Not easily, anyway … It takes a great deal of courage, to live as an effeminate man."

Another long stretch of silence, then, as we walked right aft, turned the corner, twice, and then started forward, on the other side of the deck.

I could feel the lateness of the hour, now; I was tired, and it added to the whole, strange experience, walking on a ghost-ship at night.

"Oh … and I didn't even mention, how that feeds back to William Shakespeare." I smiled, sideways, at Tom.

"It does — ?"

"Yes. Did you know, there were no actresses in Shakespeare's time — ? All of the roles were played by men, and boys. Including Juliet, in 'Romeo and Juliet' … Can you imagine what it would be like, watching their love scenes together, and knowing that Romeo was actually kissing another boy — ? Expressing his love, to another boy — ?"

Silence, from Tom. I glanced at him; from his expression, he could, indeed, imagine it.

"And then, there's the fact that the plots of so many of Shakespeare's plays, include young female characters, dressing up as boys, pretending to be boys … while still secretly loving the male characters." Another, brief smile, at him. "Because of that, some of them are a little — much — to put on, at a boys' school; even if they are Shakespeare. But you can always read them, and use your imagination … "

I could see him blink, at that.

Another stretch of silence. The deserted ship, all around us; the sound of the water, rushing against the side. The deck moving, just a little, under our feet.

"Of course, love is the thing. That we fall in love with each other — other boys — is what sets us apart … "

I said it, very quietly, and very gently.

Nothing, from Tom; his face was down, his eyes were fixed on the deck.

"In my school, in my House — most of the boys who play in the showers, or who visit each other in bed — they're not like us. They'll end up dating girls, and getting married, and having children … Playing is just an outlet, for them."

A pause, from me.

"But those of us who fall in love with other boys … Well. Our lives … are much more complicated … "

Nothing from Tom, for a long moment; his eyes were still fixed on the teak deck beneath us. Then — 

"Yeah." A pause, and a breath, that might even have been the start of a bleak laugh. Then — "Yeah. I can see that."

No more words, for long seconds, as we paced our way aft. Finally, I spoke up, again.

"The most important thing, for boys like us, for people like us, is to be careful, who we tell … and to be even more careful, about what we put in writing … " I glanced at him, sideways. "Jack and I have friends who were expelled from school, and separated; because of what they'd put in writing … Keeping a diary is like having a death wish."

I looked at him again, quickly, hoping to see that he understood. It wasn't just hypothetical; our freedom, Jack's, mine, and Tom's, depended on his secrecy, his discretion.

His expression was — startled, maybe. Whatever he'd expected me to say, this wasn't it.

"There was that letter you had … "

"I know. I was a fool, not to have burned it, the night I received it. And Jack should never have written it — "

Even as I said it, I was uncomfortably aware of the far more explicit message which I'd just wired to him … 

But that message was in code. With a key known only to the two of us.

"It's hard being careful, all the time," I went on, quietly. "It's very hard, and sometimes we slip. But it's important; not just for ourselves, but for our friends. For the people we love. Because they can be caught up, and hurt, if we're found out … "

A long silence. We rounded the after part of the Promenade Deck, past the shuttered Tea Garden, and started back forward.

"Okay," from Tom. Then — "Yeah. I promise, I'll be careful."

I reached over, and squeezed his shoulder; silently.

Another stretch of quiet; broken by our footsteps, and the sound of the water.

One more matter to raise.

"You know," I said, eventually; "there is a complication, which you need to know about."

A long pause, from him.

"Okay — ?" he said; tentatively.

"Yes … There is another one of us, on board, who knows about me … " I gave a quick, wry laugh. "Well, I'm sure there are lots of us, on board; many of the cabin-stewards, for instance, and they might guess … but this one knows." I glanced sideways at him. "It's Mister Grey."

Round eyes, in his thin, young face.

"You're sure?"

"Yes. He's made it very clear, more than once."

A long, silent pause from him.

"How — ?" he asked, quietly.

I shrugged, and sideways-smiled, crookedly. "He caught me looking at him." I paused, for two, long steps. "The same way you were looking at the younger sailors, in Honolulu."

Silence, for several heartbeats.


A much longer pause. I glanced at him; his face was down, and even in the electric light, I could see he was blushing, deeply. Then — 

"I wondered about him." He said it in a small voice.

"You did?" I blinked. "Has he — "

"No; no, I've only talked to him that one time, with you." His face stayed down. "But I've seen him look at you, the same way … "

I blinked, again.

"Oh," I said.

More footsteps, without words.

"Well … will you promise me, to be careful, around him — ?" I glanced to my side, again. "The thing is … just because we're the same kind — homosexuals, I mean — it doesn't mean, we're all on the same side."

A mute look, from him.

"It's not like we're all members of a club," I said; gently. "There are some very dangerous people, in the world … and some depraved ones. And extortion, and blackmail, are the ways we can be got at … "

A sideways-look, from him.

"It's not like I've got any money."

I hated being the one to tell him, of such things.

"You have a beautiful body … and a beautiful face. You are a beautiful, and desirable, young man." I paused. "If it ever came down to it — that would likely be the price."

Not a word from him. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see his head go down.

Silence, for a few more steps.

"I don't really think Mister Grey would do such a thing," I added, finally. "I don't think he's evil; I don't think he's even serious, about — well, flirting — with me. I think for him, it's just a game; although it's a dangerous one … " I glanced sideways at him, briefly. "But there are plenty of other people like that — potential blackmailers, I mean — out there in the world."

No response from him. I took a breath.

"And … I thought you should know. The more Mister Grey sees us together — the more he'll suspect you."

"I don't care." The words came out, flat and certain and quick.

I smiled at him, sideways; and I put my hand up, and squeezed his shoulder, again.


We walked on, in silence, for two more circuits of the Promenade Deck … 

And it was a comfortable silence; broken only by the sound of the rushing water, and our footsteps.

I thought about the boy at my side.

In just days, in just a few weeks — he'd become a friend; a true friend. I'd become very fond of him.

At the same time — his plight moved me.

I'd had a front-row seat, watching as he came of age, and came to terms with his sexuality, his true nature … under some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable. Through it all, he'd displayed a kind of bleak courage, even as he'd wrestled with the dictates of his religion, and his self-doubts.

Not, of course, that he'd come to be at peace with himself; I could see the struggle continuing. We'd discussed Leviticus in the Library, earlier; with all the many, many 'surely-he-shall-be-put-to-death' commandments, the dictates concerning dietary restrictions, clothing prohibitions, the treatment of slaves, and my favorite one, about regular checks for leprosy — all of which modern Christian society cheerfully ignores. It had helped, I hoped — 

But it was one pebble, in a sea of self-doubt.

Still; the bleak courage remained. And my admiration of him, my fondness for him, was only growing.

And I would do whatever I could, to provide him with some reassurance, and comfort. And, perhaps, to teach him a few things about himself, that he should know.

And perhaps, to take some comfort from him, in return. That is what friends do.

It was close to three in the morning, now; the two of us, walking the deserted deck, in companionable silence.

"Tom — ?"

He looked at me.

"It's getting late … I was wondering. Would you like to take a quick shower with me, before we go back — ?"

His eyes grew big.

"You don't have to," I said, gently. "You don't ever have to; I'm your friend, no matter what."

"No, no!" I saw his eyes go towards the stairway, leading up to the Boat Deck, and the gymnasium locker room. "No, I'd like that, a lot … Can we — ?" He turned towards me; his face was just filled with hope.

"Not that way." I smiled at him. "Come on … "

And instead of heading up — we went down.

* * *

The President Hoover is a very modern ship; there are only two classes, First and Tourist, and almost all staterooms are equipped with their own baths.

Almost all.

A few are not; and, as in most ships, these are located farther below, and farther aft, above the propellers; always the least-comfortable, and least-desirable territory, on any liner.

On the Hoover, on 'C' deck, as far aft as one could go — there are three shared, or public, bath-rooms. They are exactly what their names imply; individual rooms, each containing a bathtub and a shower, combined. And if the tiling is less elaborate than in First Class, and if the towels are slightly less luxurious than First Class towels — still, they are very clean, and very nice.

They are also very private. The doors bolt from the inside; and no-one would expect to interrupt someone taking a bath, behind a locked door.

I was proud of myself, for finding them. I'd gone looking for shared bath-rooms, after the disastrous final time in the gymnasium shower.

As I reached for the door knob, now, Tom put his hand over mine, stopping me.

"You know," he whispered; not-quite looking at me. "You don't have to, either … "

We froze for a moment.

It was our first time together, since he'd kissed me; our first time, since I'd showed him Jack's letter.


I pulled open the door, pulled him inside, and bolted the door behind him.

And then, I leaned in close, and kissed him on the cheek; very tenderly, and for several heartbeats.

* * *

We started off, standing together in the warm shower spray, in the tub; holding on to each other, washing each other with our soapy hands, all over — 

It didn't work.

The ship wasn't moving much, as such things go; but we were rolling, side-to-side, more than we were pitching … and without a porthole, without a horizon for a frame of reference, to anticipate the rolling — we were hopeless. We almost fell over, twice.

But it was extremely nice, soaping up Tom's nude, wet body, standing up. He was very erect; and he shivered, in the shower spray, under my hands.

He shivered almost continuously, in fact, as my hands roamed over him, exploring parts of him that no-one had ever explored before … 

It was very erotic.

And when he leaned in against me, his wet, bare front to my front … I confess, I shivered, myself. He was very slender, more slender, and slighter, than Jack, even, and his skin was warm, and very smooth, and when my own erection pressed against him, I gasped — 

And that's when the ship lurched, the second time, and our shoulders bounced against the wet tile wall.

I held on to him for a moment, as we tried to keep our feet.

"We should probably sit down," I whispered into his ear. Smiling to myself, wryly.

A pause; then — "Okay."

I held on to his waist, as he twisted to turn off the shower-taps — 

And I kept holding on, as we awkwardly knelt down, and Tom pushed back the shower-curtain — 

When he bent over to insert the drain plug, and to to turn on the bathtub taps … my hands roamed over his hips, and his bottom, and between his legs; and I leaned over to kiss his wet back. And Tom gasped out loud, and froze in place, as my wet hands kept exploring, and stroking, exploring, and stroking … 


We tried sitting in the bathtub, facing each other, our legs out to each other's sides, first — 

That didn't work well, either.

We could access each other's erection, well enough … But the angle was awkward; for actually bringing each other to climax.

More to the point — we both craved touching; we both craved the skin-to-skin contact of our bodies touching, more than the release of a quick orgasm, brought about with our hands … 

Well, I could tell what Tom craved. His movements, his twitches and his gasps, made what he wanted very clear.

His mood matched mine.

"Turn around — ?" I whispered.

And so he did, awkwardly, in the warmth — the warm, filtered sea water was inches deep, now, lapping against my genitals, adding to the sensuality of the whole experience — 

And as he turned, I pulled him back against me; his back to my front, him between my legs, my high-standing erection pressed up against his back, so pleasurably, my arms around him … 

He settled back against my chest with a sigh that was more like a moan, and my arms were around him, and my hands were caressing him; and my cheek was against his wet cheek, and I kissed him on the cheek, once, twice, three times — 

And then, with a puff of frustrated laughter, he had to break free from my arms, and lean forward to turn off the taps; the water was too hot, and getting too deep.

And then, at last, he was back up against my front; back in my arms, my cheek against his, in silence, just the lapping of the water in the tub now, and the echoes of our breathing from the tile …

I let my hands roam over him, his shallow, smooth, boy's chest, his nipples, then down to his hips, and the sensitive skin of his inner thighs — 

He gasped, at that; and he pressed back against me, and his hand came up to his erection — 

I stopped him.

"Shhhh … ," I whispered.

" — What — ?" from Tom, in another whisper.

"Let me do it — ?" I smiled, into his wet cheek. "I want to make you climax, all by myself … Okay?"

Another shiver, from him. More like a twitch, actually.

"Okay … "

And so I started.


I'd planned it all out, from the beginning. From the scouting trip, when I'd found these bathrooms.

It was a gift I wanted to give him.

Most boys grow up masturbating, of course — 

No. No, make that, 'all boys'; all boys masturbate, even Tom; awake, aware, or asleep … And that is the only sexual outlet most of us have, for many years. For too many years; in my opinion.

Eventually, it can become difficult, for many boys, to come to a climax any other way. It is something Jack and I have seen at school.

I was that way, myself, when I first met Jack.

And it was Jack who taught me to relax, taught me how to surrender myself into the arms, and hands, of another, to let myself be led to climax on another's initiative, another's timing …

It was easy, with Jack.

But regardless; it had been a very rewarding gift, a priceless thing to learn; it had led to wonderful sexual and emotional satisfaction, for me. And I wanted to pass it on.

Tom and I had already started off well; the last time we'd been together, I'd finished him off, at least, with my right hand, and he had done the same with me …

And now, I wanted to do it right.


"No … relax. Keep your hands down … " I whispered it, my cheek pressed to his — 

His hands went down, to grip my thighs, to either side of him.

"Just relax … " His hair was wet, against my cheek.

With my right hand, I stroked his member gently, and slowly … From his movements, and his gasps, it was just as well; he was very close … 

With my left hand, I continued exploring his body. His chest; his nipples. Down, to his groin, through the still-sparse and wet pubic hairs — 

To his scrotum; to his testicles. I pulled on his testicles, very gently, as I stroked — 

"Mmmmm … !" from Tom. He stiffened in my arms; his legs flexed, and he pushed back against me. I could feel it, in my own erection, pressed up against his bottom.

That was close. He'd almost done it.

I paused, for some seconds; our breathing echoing off the tile, the inches of seawater in the bathtub moving gently, with the working of the ship. The warm water tickled, a little, as it washed against my groin.

"All right. Just a little more — ?" I breathed it, into his ear.

A pause from him.

"Okay … "

Back to slow stroking, then. He squirmed, deliciously, in my arms, against my skin — 

I twisted my head, to kiss him, on the cheek; and, I began to stroke him faster. And then faster, still; deliberately, not frantically, but letting him know, it was time — 

He stiffened against me, again, and his hands came up — 

"Shhhh — !" I whispered; and his hands froze — 

I pressed my cheek against his hair, his ear, his cheek … and my left hand, which had been tugging on his scrotum, went lower … and my finger, the fleshy part of the tip of my middle finger, found the smoothness of his anus, and pressed, very lightly, and then pressed again — 


"Ohhhhhhh — !"


He spasmed, in my arms; and the beautiful organ I was stoking erupted with spurts of fluid, rather copious amounts of it … one drop hit me in the face, and I smiled, happily, as I went on stroking, and gently squeezing, and pressing with my fingertip …

Finally, he shuddered; he shivered, and slumped back against me, and I knew he was well and truly done.


We both breathed heavily; the sound of it, in our ears. I brought my left hand up, to hold him, around his chest — 

I left my other hand on his member. Not stoking; just, holding him, comfortably. Intimately.

"Hmmm," I went, into his ear; my cheek still against his.

I meant it, too. If I'd wanted to give Tom a gift — well. It was a gift that came back to me. It was profoundly moving, and profoundly erotic, and profoundly satisfying, to have been able to do this … 

Pants, from Tom; then — "Wow … "

I squeezed his chest, with my left arm; feeling him, warm and bare, against me. Then, I used a finger to scoop up some of his semen, spattered all over his front … and I brought it around, and put it in my mouth, and tasted it.

The essence of Tom. It tasted very nice.

Tom gasped.

"You … do that — ?" He whispered it.

I pressed my cheek against his; and I gave out a little puff of laughter.

"Yes." I squeezed his chest, a little, again. "You taste good … " Another breath of laughter, from me. "You could try it — ?"

Nothing from the boy in my arms, for a long pause. Then — 

"I'd rather try yours." He twisted his head just a little, pressing his cheek against mine; trying to see me, to catch my eye. Then — "Can I do that, to you — ? What we just did, I mean — ?"

A loaded pause; as I held him.

Truth was, I was much too far along, towards my own climax; I ached for it. My own erection, rubbing up against Tom's bottom, was extraordinarily sensitive … 

"Next time — ?" I whispered, into his ear. I kissed his cheek, again. Then — "Slide down, with me, a little — ?"

He slid down; and I followed, twisting, until our sides were in the warm sea-water, and we were facing each other, our fronts pressed together — 

It was awkward. Our heads still rested on the curve of the tub … and there was no-place for our legs to go, his top leg went over me, out of the tub, and mine went over his, and kind of bent, to one side, knee-up — 

And it didn't matter.

It was glorious.

"Ohhhhh … " I rubbed my front against his; my member against his smooth belly, and he pulled me close to him, with his arm, and he made rubbing motions against me, in return — 

I'd meant to bring my hand between us, to bring myself over the edge; but I didn't have to, my climax overtook me with great force, and surprising quickness … 

"Nnnnnghhhhhh — !"

It went on for some time. The ones that come by surprise, can do that.


After; it took me a while, to get my breath, back. The water sloshed, gently, around us and beneath us, as the ship moved … 

My forehead, at this awkward angle, rested against Tom's. I could smell his breath on my face.

His breath smelled good, too. It smelled like Tom.

I felt another rush of affection for him; Tom. This smooth, beautiful boy, pressed against me, who had just shared an intimate part of himself, with me … and then, generously, unselfishly, had helped me to orgasm …

Who still had so much to face, in his own life.

A motion, from him. His hand went down, between us; and came back, a finger coated in some of the semen I'd just expelled. And I watched, as the finger popped into his mouth — 

I almost laughed. His eyes were closed; his expression as as if he were courageously taking some bitter medicine — 

"You didn't have to do that," I whispered. Still trying not laugh.

A pause; the water moving in the tub.

"I wanted to," he whispered back. Another short pause; then — "It's okay. I guess … "

I did laugh then, just a little, quietly, at his tone, at his expression — 

Another, quiet pause.

Tom's face was almost touching mine.

Since our first kiss — our first two kisses — in the Gymnasium locker room, and the aftermath … I'd only thought of kissing him on the cheek. I think I'd wanted to keep it that way, between us; without making a conscious decision.

But that wasn't what I wanted, now.

With all my tender feelings for him rushing through my my head, and my heart, — I moved my lips to his; and I kissed him, gently and briefly, tenderly, and gladly.

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