A Royal Achievement
The last week of March in the year of Our Lord 1660 would be important in the life of Samuel Pepys. He was to play a great role in England’s history, a role whose importance would sadly be eclipsed by the later fame he won as a diarist.
For him the next few weeks were to be very dangerous work, but for Jeremy, the eleven year old orphan nephew that he had taken into his household six months earlier, it would simply be life-changing… and… an adventure.
For both of them it was now a matter of waiting for the tide.
Samuel was nervous, as any sensible man would be. His master and cousin, Admiral Lord Montagu, had spent the previous day preparing his will, and had insisted that Samuel did likewise. Their affairs needed to be settled before they went to sea with the Summer Fleet that defended the English Channel.
Last summer, the Summer Fleet had ensured the European exile of Charles Stuart, the man whose ambition was to become Charles the Second, absolute monarch of the British Isles.
That had been their role last summer. This summer, their purpose in going to sea was quite the opposite, and that would have made any man nervous in the dying days of Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate.
Meanwhile, Samuel’s housekeeper had her own worries, and when she worried the household was in turmoil.
Her mistress, Samuel’s long-suffering wife, was gone to new lodgings where she would stay while he was away. Samuel, her master, had been packing and unpacking for days, and was now racing hither and yon, collecting and paying debts, putting his affairs in order.
Yesterday, assisting Lord Montagu in the writing of his Last Will and Testament had done nothing at all for poor Samuel’s nerves.
Later, he had much more happily received the Warrant that appointed him Secretary to the Generals in charge of the fleet. Effectively he was now Secretary to the Navy, the most powerful civil-servant in the Admiralty.
Today, to add to his nervousness, his first task had been to deliver Lord Montagu’s will, in a solemnly funereal black box, to a Mr William Montague, for safe keeping, just in case.
His housekeeper greeted his return in a state of great agitation…
“Mr Pepys, Sir… Master… You’re summoned to the Tower!”
“Calm yourself my dear, I admit I have taken risks, but the Tower? Surely not. Have they sent Beefeaters to escort me?” Samuel offered a slightly nervous smile.
“No, sir. But… there’s a man waiting. He says to get you and your bags to the Tower… and… he says you are to take Jeremy with you!”
Samuel breathed a sigh of relief. Even a man who enjoyed Parliament’s favour could feel nervous at hearing that he was summoned to the Tower. Particularly if he held decided views that Protectorate rule had failed, and supported the idea that a king might once again rule England.
“Well, that explains everything if Jeremy is to go to the Tower as well. His talent for scrumping apples far outstrips his ability at treason.”
A teasing smile told her that he was more amused than worried.
His housekeeper had been right to be worried. These were troubled times. Oliver Cromwell was not long dead, and his son Richard had proved a disaster as his successor. The nation had descended into a state of chaotic bankruptcy.
Throughout what passed for a government it was no longer terribly certain who was on the side of Parliament and who wanted the return of a Stuart monarch.
It wasn’t even certain that Parliament was still on Parliament’s side.
Charles Stuart, the King-in-exile, was waiting in Holland.
In England, elections were being organised to decide the members of a Convention that would determine how Britain should be ruled… as a republic or as a monarchy… and on what terms.
For a monarchy to return, Charles Stuart would need to water down his father’s demand that Parliament recognise a King’s God-given right to absolute power… A view of monarchy that had seen his father end his days on a scaffold in front of the Mansion House, just eleven years earlier.
For some weeks, messengers had been racing back and forth to Holland. Some were from monarchists, some from Parliament, and some from influential individuals who could well be either, but were too self-important to be one or the other.
To be summoned to the Tower of London, as the long-time destination of traitors, was as likely in the circles that Samuel Pepys now frequented as was being summoned there on business.
It was the request to bring his young nephew Jeremy that told him with certainty whose servant was waiting in the downstairs parlour.
“Quick, quick! We need to catch the tide. Is Jeremy ready? Is he even in the house?”
“He’s in his room. He’s been packing for two days. He has this fanciful notion that he is going to be a sailor! Eleven years old and he wants to be a sailor! Stuff and nonsense I say!”
“Not at all. It’s what brought him up from the country after my brother died. I’m taking him to sea with me. I’ve arranged a voyage for him as a captain’s servant, to see if he likes the life. If he does, then next year he can be given a proper post with one of my friends and start a career in His Majesty’s… Parliament’s… I mean England’s Navy… as of this day, my Navy!”
“The poor little scrap… going to sea? A servant! With a rough sea captain? Never! You cannot, it’s not right… He’s only eleven years old, barely that!”
Her righteous indignation was overcoming her commonsense, and her master decided that he needed to put her out of her misery if he was to catch the tide… and if he was to prevent her from saying something unacceptable.
“Rough sea-captain? What do you take me for? He’s to be page to my cousin, Admiral Lord Montagu. Montagu is joining the Naseby to take command of the fleet in the Channel.”
“Oh Sir… a page! Oh, the little darling! So, it’s a-liking then!, He’s going a-liking before you sign him up next year?” .
Samuel thought for a moment.
“Well, yes, very like an apprentice going a-liking before signing up for a five-year indenture. But, even after he signs up next year it will be quite a while before he is unable to withdraw… He will simply be an informal sort of junior officer… more or less.”
He said it with a smile to reassure her. He knew that over the last six months she had come to love the little orphan that insisted on helping her in the kitchen… even though his help added to her work in the process.
Then Sam Pepys’ natural tendency to tease took over again…
“Besides, going a-liking lasts just a fortnight. Jeremy is off for at least a six-month voyage… first to the Downs and then if all goes well with that adventure he will be off to the Barbary Coast to chase pirates!”
“Oh sir, the wee scrap! He will need some food for his trunk!”
“Just sweetmeats and fruit… and cheese. I shall see that he eats well with the junior officers. Anyway, we have no time for baking now. Get some more food and clothes together for him and have the carrier bring the heavier luggage to the Tower Steps. It’s already too late for this tide, so we shall almost certainly still be there when the carrier gets to us… If not, the carrier’s family can eat well tomorrow. Let’s hope the boy has packed wisely. I’d expected a more dignified departure than this. Go find a coach and horses so that we can at least take our light bags with us down to the Tower.”
Then, with a twinkle in his eye…
“Jeremy is about to meet more than sailors if I have anything to do with it!”
“Oh Sir, you mean the…”
Sam cut in, glancing at the door. “Who he will meet remains to be seen! Meanwhile, the Secretary of the Navy, me, myself, will be doing all he can to ensure the Navy and the nation’s future. Not forgetting that of young Jeremy. We sail in Parliament’s ship Naseby… Goodness knows what it will be called by the time we return. The Naseby hardly seems appropriate.”
With that Sam ran down to see Lord Montagu’s man.
“His Lordship asks that you proceed to the Tower with all haste. If you can be there by seven o-clock he asks that you join him on board the Swiftsure for dinner.”
“Please tell his Lordship that we depart immediately. Our baggage will follow as quickly as a carrier can get here to move them. Eliezer, my clerk, should already be on board. Give His Lordship my thanks for remembering Jeremy, no Admiral will ever have had such an attentive page.”
The house returned to a state of organised bustle. The carrier arrived. The bags were loaded. Jeremy stood still long enough to be cried over by the females of the household. Time enough for him to stick his tongue out at the pot-boy who would now be the sole target of cook’s efforts to achieve discipline in her kitchen… “It wasn’t me, it was Jeremy” had never worked well with Cook, and in ten minutes time it wasn’t going to work at all.
At the Tower, after all the rush there was a lot of waiting about before they could board. They had missed the noon tide already and neither their luggage nor the last of Lord Montagu’s had yet arrived.
Rather than risk their bags being left on the quay, Samuel sat there on Jeremy’s trunk. The boy had actually been the only person completely ready. Samuel now used the time to write up his diary and relax while they ate pies and drank small-beer from stalls plied by somewhat grubby tradesmen.
Eventually everything was accounted for and in order. Sam’s loyal housekeeper had travelled with the cart to ensure that everything arrived, un-pilfered and undamaged.
Once again Jeremy was cried over, to his utter mortification. He was glad to be directed towards the gang-plank onto the barges that were to take them to Long Reach to board the Swiftsure. On the way down river they saw the huge breach in the river bank that had recently caused disastrous flooding at Limehouse.
When they reached the Swiftsure, a petty-officer piped them aboard.
“Was that whistling for you Uncle?” Jeremy asked in awe.
“No, young man… that was for you. I’m simply a member of the government… You are wearing the uniform of a naval-officer, a Young-Gentleman. That’s an officer even if a rather small and junior one. Just don’t take your situation too seriously. You may be an officer, but the sailors are a great deal bigger!”
“Uncle, with respect…” Jeremy looked seriously at Samuel. “I know that I’m just an orphan, and that I’m very lucky to be here at all. Depend on it, I shall do nothing to risk my position.”
Samuel smiled down at him… This really was a splendid child… officer.
On board they were ushered down to meet Lord Montagu. His Lordship was a large and imposing figure and seemed to fill his state-room in the stern of the ship.
He was a man who didn’t need to make much of himself.
He was after all General-in-command of the Summer Patrol.
He could hang sailors and sack captains.
If occasion demanded it, he could hang captains too!
He was already, although not too many knew it yet, in direct contact with the King-in-Exile, the man in Holland who might or might not be returning to England as King Charles the Second.
Parliament was on the verge of returning to England’s more natural state, rule by a king. Parliament would surely have greater control of a King than it had ever managed to have over a Protector chosen from its own ranks. It had proved difficult to oppose their own man, while opposing a king was a natural role for Parliament.
So there they were; Lord Montagu standing feet astride to balance against the roll of the ship as lighters passed close by, while Samuel and Jeremy were a little less steady on their feet.
“Samuel, my good man, welcome aboard the Swiftsure! We’re off to Tilbury with the tide. Lawson is waiting to join us… or he’s lying in wait for us as the case may be. I just hope that he doesn’t resign on me as he did before the battle at Cadiz!”
Montagu boomed, his voice suited to his role.
Samuel had warned Jeremy to be discreet around Vice-Admiral Lawson.
“He and Lord Montagu don’t get on. Before the Battle of Cadiz, Lawson handed the whole matter over to Lord Montagu, abandoning the fleet and the battle to His Lordship’s novice command. He probably hoped that Lord Montagu would make a mess of things. He didn’t, and Lawson’s perfidy has meant that many of us have viewed him with some scepticism ever since.”
“Thank you Uncle, I shall tread with care. If I see anything I shall inform you before I comment on it to any of my new masters.”
“Well done my boy. Remember, say nothing to Lawson of Lord Montagu’s business, no matter how many sugared plums he plies you with.”
“It will take a great deal more than sugared plums to buy me, Uncle!”
That brought him an approving pat on the back from Samuel.
“Well done, you are going to make an excellent page… and next year? Who knows? I’m planning reforms of this boy-officer system. It’s a good idea, but needs to be made more formal, so that boys and their fathers know what they are getting. I haven’t yet worked out quite what to call chaps like you. I’m sure that a warrant will be involved, so with a fair wind, you’ll be some sort of warrant-officer.”
Now they were standing with Lord Montagu, Jeremy’s new master.
“Well Samuel, it’s good to have one man with me that I can trust… or is that two?”
He turned his gaze on young Jeremy.
“Two Sir!” Jeremy piped up. “Your loyal and obedient servant, Jeremy Pepys, Sir, at your service.” He managed a most creditable sweeping bow.
“Loyal eh? Would you die for me sir?” He boomed quite alarmingly, but Jeremy held his ground.
“Yes Sir, of course Sir… that’s what I’m here for… Sir.”
While he said that because it was what should be said, he wasn’t quite sure what he was actually getting himself into.
Montagu looked down at his young charge and asked…
“Well young man, tell me… If a Barbary pirate opened fire on you at point blank range… What should you do?”
Jeremy thought, frowning in concentration as to what the best answer would be…
His brow cleared…
“Why Sir… I think that I should die… Yes, I see no alternative… I should die.”
Lord Montagu looked startled, and then smiled… “Now why is that the best thing to do? Why wouldn’t you hide? Behind a mast or a large sailor?”
“But Sir, I’m told that I am an officer. An officer hiding behind a sailor would not be right… would it sir?”
“And why is that? Why shouldn’t you hide? I would think it sensible… at your age.”
“Because I am my father’s son.” Jeremy replied, standing very straight. “He said that one should never hide, unless you are about to attack!”
He giggled… “But, I’m a bit small to attack anyone, Sir.”
It gave Lord Montagu pause for thought. Jeremy’s father had been terribly wounded at the Battle of Naseby… leading a cavalry charge… On the side of the King!”
“Indeed… indeed you are! And, how old did your uncle say you are? Eleven?” Montagu shook his head in wonderment. “You will be a force to contend with when you are twenty!”
“Oh long before that Sir, long before that I hope.”
“Well, the quarterdeck or a cavalry horse places us above the common man… So, you’re correct my young officer, we do indeed need to show the men that we deserve to be there.”
“Now then…” He picked up a bosun’s whistle that lay on his map table and blew a warbling call.
“Listen for that. When you hear it, come running, I shall have something to be done.”
A head popped round the door…
“Ah David, you have a new friend, this is Jeremy Pepys. He is to be my new page, you are promoted to… umm… Senior Page. Take him with you, show him where he will eat and sleep. String his hammock alongside yours. I want him looked after. This gentleman is my cousin. Mr Samuel Pepys, Secretary to the Navy and Jeremy’s uncle. That makes Jeremy some sort of cousin, so treat him as family… Got it?”
“Yes Father. I mean… Aye-aye Sir!”
As the two boys went to leave, Lord Montagu turned to Samuel and said, “He seems a fine young man. Let’s hope his courage doesn’t get tested too soon. His father has done a fine job.”
Samuel sighed and replied “Yes, Jeremy is old beyond his years. His father was very diligent in raising him. He knew that his wounds would carry him off before his son was full-grown, so Jeremy has the mind of a sixteen year-old and the body of a child. I do hope that the combination doesn’t get him killed… Even if dying is what he thinks you should do when faced with Barbary pirates.” He smiled at the thought of his nephew’s courage.
Then he laughed, “Still, and all, he has your Davy to keep him out of trouble. He is what? twelve?”
“Yes twelve, nearly thirteen, and I’m not sure that keeping him out of trouble is what young Davy has in mind. The junior officers and mates are already running a book on how long it takes Jeremy to reach the crow’s-nest”
Meanwhile, like all boys their age, their stomachs were telling them that they had a lot of growing to do.
“Let’s go and find Saucy… he is Father’s cook.” Davy said.
“Is the food good?” asked Jeremy.
“Pretty good in the junior-officers’ mess where we eat, and even better if we can get some of the nice things that Saucy makes for Father’s table… and himself.”
“Where does he do his cooking?” Davy asked, “out on deck?”
“No, he has a row of ovens and open fires down below!”
“But… but what about fire? It’s a wooden ship! Cook at home is worried enough and we have a brick house!”
“Ah well, that’s the thing, on a ship a cook’s galley is a mass of brick too. The ovens and grates have thick brick walls so that their outside stays cool. Saucy is also a strict master. He goes mad if a coal lands out of the grate, even if only on the brick deck.”
He paused and looked serious. “He was once assistant cook on a ship where the cook was careless and the ship caught fire.”
“What happened to the cook? Was he punished?”
“The captain hanged him. He had all the assistant-cooks parade in the front row to watch their master dance.”
Davy tried to make light of it, but it was clearly a story that preyed on his mind.
“Come on, let’s find Saucy.”
Saucy turned out to be a rotund and jolly man with a limp and a red face that was marked with broken blood vessels from the heat and the brandy that filled his days.
“Permission to enter, Cook?” Davy asked formally.
“Come along in young-sir, and who is your new friend?”
“Jeremy, this is Cook, Mr Jarvis. The men call him Sauce, but I know him as Saucy!” He grinned at the cook, and the cook smacked him smartly on the bottom, and then pretended to gentle the pain away.”
Jeremy watched this with some amusement. “I shall try not to annoy you Sir. I wouldn’t want you smacking me.”
“Oh there are some advantages in Cook’s smacks. He knows he oughtn’t to strike an officer,” He grinned, “so he always makes amends with a piece of pie or plum cake. He calls it “paying his fine” and that’s fine by me.”
Jeremy, wise beyond his years, but innocent to match them, knew that there was more to all this than met the eye, but he was still too young to know exactly what.
Cook found them some meat-pie and as the boys left he patted David on the shoulder, but Jeremy… he got patted on the bottom.”
David saw what had happened and when his new friend was safely settled at the rail watching the ships on the river, went back to find the cook. Saucy smiled at him and winked.
“Your new friend is a cute one.”
David sharply said… “Now Cook, let’s have no silliness, he’s only eleven… It’ll be a while yet before I let him alone with you and your pies! His guardian is Mr Pepys, Secretary to the Navy Board so you’d do well to leave Jeremy alone. Eventually he’ll be ready to want a piece of pie of his own. Just let him tell you when… alright?”
Cook knuckled his forehead. “Yes Mister David, Sir. Thanks for the warning. You know I mean no harm, just an affectionate pat is all.”
“So long as that’s all it is!” Jeremy smiled. “Look Saucy, I know you mean no harm. Just be friends with Jeremy… I’ll look after earning Jeremy’s share of your extras… You know how much I like your extras, don’t you?”
“Yes Mr. David, I think you’ve got yourself a taste for them… But, do be sure to get your share from Jeremy when you give him his… We do want him to get a taste for what we offer.” He grinned in a slightly creepy way.
They both knew what they meant.
“What was all that about?” Jeremy asked when he and David had settled at the rail to munch their pie.
“Oh, I was just warning cook to be careful who he patted on the bottom. Your guardian wouldn’t approve if he got to hear about it.”
Jeremy was puzzled, “but… Cook at home in the country, and the one at the Pepys’ house, both of them pat my bottom… why is Cook here different?”
David realised that he was in deep water now. The last thing he wanted was Jeremy asking his uncle for enlightenment. With a deep breath, he tackled an explanation that started…
“Well, it is different… Think about when a fellow kisses his girl…”
He paused and continued… “Or, when your father kisses your mama…”
He saw Jeremy’s eyes quickly fill with tears. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking… Look there’s the old Royal Barge… it’s been in storage, I wonder why it’s out on the river. It looks as if it’s on its way back to Greenwich.”
Fortunately Jeremy was easily distracted. It was six months since his father died and over a year since his mother. It still hurt but not as much as it had.
Still intrigued with matters saucy, he returned to the subject of his bottom. If truth were told he liked it when his bottom was patted. Too few people still patted him… anywhere. Saucy patting him a few moments ago had really been rather nice, if a trifle surprising on-board ship. He wasn’t actually any too clear why he liked it… he just did.
“Well, about Cook…” Jeremy re-started a subject he was finding interesting.
“Do you know anyone who has a girlfriend, maybe betrothed?” David asked.
“Cook’s son, in the country!”
“Well, when they kiss, does he get over-excited? Does he do things she doesn’t want, so she slaps his hand?”
“Yes, and then they go in the larder to sort jars.”
“… is that different to when he kisses his mother?”
“Well yes, totally different!”
“So, they are both kisses but there’s a difference. It’s the same difference between the Pepys’ cook patting your bottom and Lord Montagu’s cook doing it!”
“You mean when cook does it at home, she is just being nice, but when Saucy does it he has something else in mind… and I might need to smack his hand? … and help him sort jars?”
“Yes, exactly so… but don’t go sorting jars… and don’t give him the chance to get himself into trouble. As officers it’s our duty to prevent the men from doing wrong.”
David hoped he had got the point across. On board a ship full of sailors it was important that Jeremy learned to keep himself safe.
“I don’t know how much you know about men.” David said. “Some of them are nasty and don’t like boys, they think us a nuisance and that we get in the way. Others like Cook like us, but….” His voice tailed off, the explanation becoming too complicated, but then he saw Jeremy’s puzzled expression.
“What’s the problem with being liked?” Jeremy asked.
“Well, it’s a bit complicated.” Davy said. “and, this isn’t the place to talk about it. Ask me again later, when we are alone and can’t be overheard.”
“Now, let’s show you the ship!” Davy cried. “She isn’t quite as big as the Naseby will be, but she’s well built and she is nippy.”
“You call her she, is she female?”
“She needs handling firmly and gently, like a lady,” Davy replied airily. “and if you are careless she can be a bitch!”
It was said from the position of a boy with a year’s more experience of life, but… much more experience than that of life at sea.
“Besides, all ships are she… perhaps because all sailors are men and want to control and bend them to their will.”
Jeremy was listening to all this with care and interest. He was beginning to realise that there were lots of things he didn’t yet know, things that Davy was clearly keen to teach him.
Jeremy was puzzled on a small matter. “You said Cook pays a fine in nice food, because he strikes you when he pats you?”
“Yes, he should never strike an officer, even in jest. He can’t help himself, my bottom is too plump and round for him to resist! So he keeps telling me.” Davy smiled. “But, he never, ever, does it when a more senior officer is about, and even with the other mates and junior officers he is very careful.”
“But he strikes you, pats you, anyway?”
“Yes, it’s in his nature. But remember, even if his pat accidentally stings, never look pained. It must never have been a blow. If a senior officer saw you grimace Cook could most certainly hang for it, Naval discipline is very rigid!”
“Just for patting my bottom?”
“No, for striking an officer!”
David knew that he was exaggerating, Saucy probably wouldn’t hang, but he could be whipped around the fleet; he’d be taken to each ship in turn to receive ten or twenty lashes on each, and then twice as many on the Admiral’s flagship. Many men died and more than a few asked to be hanged instead.
Jeremy listened to all this wide-eyed, and determined to protect Cook from harm.
“All that for patting my bottom?”
“Yes, all that.”
“You must explain to me why he takes such a risk…”
“I promise I will, but not just now.”
More important and urgent matters intervened. “Where do we pee?” Jeremy asked.
“The pissdale is on the upper deck.” David replied. “I’m sorry, I should have thought of that, I’m supposed to be looking after you… You want to now?”
“Yes please, if it’s no trouble.”
“No trouble, and we get to see some more of the ship!”
They climbed up to the pissdale and like boys everywhere stood there peeing into the wind and dodging each others blow-back. When they had finished, Jeremy asked…
“Not that I need to but…?”
“Where do we go to crap?” David said with a smile. “We are lucky, we are not only officers but the captain’s personal servants… and family. We get to use his chamber-pot, and believe me they are rarer than hens’ teeth on a ship. But, not while it’s in his cabin and whichever of us uses it last in the morning takes it to the heads to empty it!”
“Where are the heads?” Jeremy asked “I hope its safe, I imagine we shit straight into the sea?”
“Yes its more or less safe, in good weather that is. I’ll show you.”
The heads was not much more than a gap in the ship’s beakhead, a pair of open-bottomed boxes with seats, either side of the bowsprit. The boys stared down at the sea as it foamed along under them.
“It’s not very private!” Jeremy remarked. “That’s true, its best used when the men are eating. While they are making sure they get their fair share is when you are least likely to find yourself sitting here with some great hairy sailor. We don’t use these seats unless it’s urgent. We are officers and can use the quarter-galleries at the sterncastle.”
Jeremy was beginning to feel more at home. It was good to have a friend to explain things… and he was beginning to rather like David. As the Admiral’s son he could have put on airs, but he didn’t and that made him rather attractive in a world where only power and position mattered.
Jeremy peered down through the gaps.
“Yeugh! It’s not very nice down there… Coming alongside, you’d want to avoid that mess.”
“That’s been allowed to get bad down there,” David said, wrinkling his nose. “The liar will need to clean that up in a bit. He may need chasing. It’s not a popular job so the mate will have to chase him up with a rope-end. I’ll mention it.”
By this stage Jeremy was aware of mates and their rope-ends. He had already seen a few sailors speed up as they felt the weight of rope striking their rear. But…
“The liar… what on earth is a liar? And, why does he scrape the shit off the side of the ship… why would he agree to do that?”
“The liar,” David explained with some glee, “is the first sailor caught telling a lie on Monday morning… maybe just that he says it’s a clean shirt when it’s obviously grubby. Well, the first man caught lying is marched to the main-mast with all the crew shouting ‘liar! liar!’ at him. Then he is sentenced to clean the shit off the side of the ship. He is supposed to keep it spotless! All week, ‘til there is a new man on the following Monday.”
“And, this weeks liar is slacking?”
“Yes, and he’s about to feel the weight of a mate’s arm… There’s the mate, over there…”
“Mr. Mate, the liar’s slacking, it’s a mess down there!”
“Aye, aye young-gentleman Sir, I’ll sharpen him up.” He strode off.
“Anyway, that’s where the men shit. We’re allowed to use the roundhouse… he pointed to a small garden-privy adjacent to the heads, but there’s only the one… and anyway, like I said, we can use the quarter-galleries in the stern, where the officers go.”
“I’m so glad you are here to explain things. Thank you.” Jeremy had not yet learned to hide his feelings. Nor had David. He put an arm round the smaller boy’s shoulders and gave him a quick hug.
“I’m pleased you are here. It means I can have a friend now, without Father making a fuss about me mixing with the rougher boys of the lower decks.”
“Are there many?”
“A huge number. In battle all the guns are supplied with powder by powder-monkeys. They need to be able to run about in the small spaces on the gun decks and in the magazines, so it’s best if really small boys do the job. As well as them, just about all the petty-officers have a boy or two, to do the running around for their department.”
“Isn’t it dangerous for the powder-monkeys in battle, the guns and enemy cannon-balls and all…”
“Yes, of course, and then it’s the loblolly boys who work for the surgeon who do a lot of the work sorting out the wounded. A lot of the wounded are powder-monkeys. It’s really no fun being down there in a battle, but it needs to be done.”
“What are we supposed to do in a battle? How do we help? I can’t see what your father could want us for during a battle. He will be far too busy admiraling.”
“We are supposed to stay out of the way. The safest place is in the belly of the ship below the waterline; shot can’t easily reach there. That’s what Father has told me to do.”
Jeremy was not impressed with that as an answer…
“Well I don’t think my father would have approved of me hiding like that. I think I shall need to find something more useful to do. I can’t really fight or man a gun, but I could carry powder or help the… what did you call them…? loblolly boys. That would be better than hiding in a battle, Father would never have approved of that.”
David said, rather seriously, “I plan to at least watch what’s going on.” He paused a moment, in thought. “Maybe I can help the surgeon, that would be interesting. I must ask Toby, he’s the eldest of the loblollies, a sort of assistant to the surgeon.”
“And I could help you… though helping the gunner sounds more exciting”
“Yes, exciting.” David said, “But, very dangerous.”
Jeremy looked serious for a moment. “I’m an orphan, no-one would miss me… except cook and the housekeeper. If anyone should take some risk, it ought to be me.”
“I would miss you!” David said, looked around quickly and gave Jeremy a hug.”
Jeremy, overcome by the first spontaneous affection in nearly a year, turned quickly and kissed him. It was very quick, and on the cheek, and he realised immediately that he shouldn’t have done it, but it was a quiet corner and they seemed to be alone.
“I’m sorry, we’re officers; I suppose I shouldn’t have done that!”