A Royal Achievement
The boys had been discussing what they could do to help in a battle.
David said that his father had ordered him to take no risks, to stay below the waterline, away from cannon-fire. He was to keep Saucy company. David didn’t seemed happy at the idea.
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!”
David was more surprised than shocked. It was the first time he had been kissed in nearly a year… that is, since the last time he was careless around Saucy the cook, when he too had been new aboard. He couldn’t remember when his father had last thought to even hug him.
“That’s alright, no-one saw, and… it was nice… Thank you.” There were actually tears in his eyes. “This wind is getting in my eyes, let’s go below!”
By now it was late afternoon. David said that they ought to check with his father to see if there was anything he needed. Lord Montagu was still in conversation with Samuel when the boys appeared at the door.
“My Lord, is there anything you require us to do?” Jeremy asked in his most formal voice.
Montagu smiled and waved them in.
“Where have you taken young-gentleman Pepys?” He asked his son.
“Well… he has visited the pissdale, and I have shown him where to find the heads… and I told him about the liar and why it’s wise to be truthful on Mondays… Oh yes, and we visited Saucy and collected some pie for a late luncheon.”
“Hmm,” Lord Montagu thought a moment. “You explained to Jeremy that it was unwise to accept favours that may need to be paid for later?… It will be a long voyage after all.”
David looked astonished. “You know?” He blushed and immediately regretted his outburst.
Lord Montagu smiled. “I know nothing unless I ask, but I’m aware of everything that happens on this ship. I know about boys and the temptation of a pie; and on the other hand I’m also aware of the temptations open to a ship’s cook who has an admiral’s pies to offer.”
“Just make sure that you don’t involve Jeremy in anything that he may regret, or may not even understand. Make sure he knows what’s what. Explain to him what an officer may and may not be seen to do.” He concluded.
“Now, the answer to your question is… No, there is nothing we need, other than your presence, in your best clothes, for dinner at my table at 7 o-clock. Mr Pepys is to be my guest of honour.”
“Run along, until seven.”
David made a hasty exit.
“I just learned more about my father than I ever did before you arrived… Perhaps more than I needed to know.”
“I think…” said Jeremy wisely, “I think that was a conversation he had wanted to have for some time, and today I was simply an excuse for telling you to be careful.”
“If you’re right then you have my gratitude… I would hate to have had that conversation after having been caught doing naughties in Saucy’s larder.”
“In that case we need to find somewhere quiet for you to tell me what exactly your father meant, because he was quite right… I have no idea what I am supposed to avoid doing. Or perhaps he simply meant… avoid being caught doing!”
“Indeed we must…. How is your head for heights?” David asked.
“Quite good, my father taught me to climb trees… admittedly from the ground.” He looked sad. “He always said he would have liked to join me at the top of the oak in the grounds of our home. But, the battle at Naseby had made that impossible by the time I was old enough to enjoy it.” He looked sad again.
David jumped in with, “Well, in that case let’s show you the mainmast. It’s as tall as any oak, and, it has a crows-nest at the top with an incredible view.”
Jeremy was immediately distracted from his momentary mood.
“That sounds fun! I have so much to learn that you can teach me.”
“Indeed you have… and I’ve been tasked by his Lordship to ensure that you learn as much as I know.” David said solemnly, but with a cheeky grin.
“So… can I rely on Saucy to teach me the rest?” Jeremy asked with mock seriousness.
“If you allow him the opportunity I’m sure he would love to.” David replied.
“The question is then,” Jeremy said, “should I allow him the opportunity? How much is a piece of pie?”
David regarded his young friend with quiet respect. This boy caught on fast. Although he didn’t yet know any of the questions, they were clearly questions to which he already knew most of the answers.
The boys scampered off to the main deck, dodging ropes and sailors and the men swabbing down the deck, holy-stoning the surface to keep it clean and smooth and free of the slipperiness when wet that could make it dangerous, even for the hard and rough bare-feet of the sailors.
They came to what David informed him was the mainmast, and Jeremy looked up at it in awe.
“Do the men really go up there in a storm to look after the sails?”
“Yes, they’re known as topmen if they work the top-yards. The youngest of them are really just older boys, but don’t ever say so. They are the ones who go right to the top and work out on the yards at the greatest height… the top-most sails are much smaller than the main-sails, so they can be handled by younger men that haven’t yet reached their full strength.”
“But, are nimbler and more daring?” Said Jeremy.
“and, dafter!” David replied.
The two boys stood and stared up at the mast. David explained the stays that braced the masts and the ratlines, pieces of wood and rope tied to the stays, that created ladders leading up from the ship’s rail to a wooden platform halfway up, at the top of the lower section of the mast, near the yard that held the lower of two sails. Jeremy took a tentative step towards the rail, he turned to David.
“Will we get into trouble?” He asked, perhaps hopefully.
“Not unless you fall in the sea and they have to bring the ship round to fish you out.”
“They won’t mind though…”
“No, they won’t mind. They are probably watching to see if you are daring enough to have a try. This is as good a time as any. With the ship at anchor in the river there’s less motion to make the climb difficult.” David assured him.
“We could climb just as far as the first yard. You go first, I’ll follow and watch your feet for you.” David said. It was a kind offer, his weight would hold the ratlines steady, and more to the point David had found that looking up at someone climbing above you was much more alarming than just climbing alone. The impression of height was less with no-one above you.
Then he thought to say, “Whatever you do, don’t look down once you have started. There is nothing down there of interest. Keep your mind on your hands and feet. Remember, one hand is for the Navy, the other is for you. Always have one hand tight on the ladder.”
Jeremy by this time was beginning to wonder what he was getting himself into… it had seemed a lark a moment ago, and now it seemed to be getting serious.
They climbed onto the ratlines, they were like the rungs of five or six rope ladders side by side, with the stays for the mast they formed a vertical climbing net.
“You go up a few steps and I’ll follow. If I tap your leg, stop climbing. I’ll come up beside you and tell you what we shall do next. Remember… don’t look down!”
At first the stays and ratlines swayed alarmingly, and Jeremy found climbing difficult, but then David’s weight appeared below him and steadied things so that climbing became easier.
As they gained height Jeremy actually began to enjoy himself. The view of ships and the city up the river made a huge impression on him, despite it being a rather blustery day. The wind in his hair seemed part of an adventure.
Young and nimble, it wasn’t long before they approached the top of that section of ratlines, where the stays that braced it were attached to the top of the lower-mast.
Jeremy felt a tap on his leg, and just for a moment was going to look down to see what David wanted.
“Don’t look down!” Came a shout from David… so he didn’t. He stopped, and a few moments later David’s head appeared by his waist.
“Now then, see that platform level with your head? that’s the traverse-beams that form the cross-trees. They hold the bottoms of the stays that brace the upper mast. Move off onto the platform. It’s called a fighting-top, it’s where archers shoot from, and sharpshooters too these days, so long as it isn’t too wet.”
Jeremy scrambled onto what now felt almost firm ground. David continued…
“We can rest here and decide what to do next, and take in the view. Sit down… and hold on tight all the time.”
Jeremy did as David suggested, and now that he could stop concentrating on his hands, feet and the ratlines, he could see that the view really was incredible. He could see for miles… perhaps to the edge of London, to the edge of East London anyway, out into the Essex Marshes.
“This is wonderful! I had no idea it would be so… wonderful!”
David smiled. “I love to come up here. The only problem is that if they need to trim the sails, then we really will be in their way.”
“Well there’s only one more large sail above us… what if we waited above that on the ratlines?” Jeremy was not giving up this much fun easily.
“Actually… do you see that barrel sort of thing right at the top, well that’s the crows-nest and that’s the very best place in the world. It’s big enough for two of us to stand inside, and it’s safe… so that we won’t have to worry about holding on. It’s just about as much more climb as we’ve done so far.”
Not wanting to get Jeremy into more than he was able to tackle, David went on kindly… “But, you’ve done jolly well to get this far on your first climb. It’d be perfectly alright to go back down now, if you like. But we shouldn’t stay here on the crosstrees, just in case the hands need to reach the topsail above us.”
“No,” said Jeremy, “I don’t want to go down yet, and I don’t want to be in the way either. We don’t want your father telling us to stop getting in the way. Let’s at least go above the topsail. I’m sure my legs will manage that.”
David thought to himself that it really wasn’t Jeremy’s legs as much as his head that was the risk… but his head seemed to be doing fine. Maybe those years climbing oak-trees had served a purpose that the poor boy’s invalid father hadn’t planned for, or perhaps he had.
“Well, if we do that, the ratlines will get narrow near the top so I had better explain what’s up there. You see the crows-nest, well there is a sort of trap-door on its underside that you can climb through. It’s known as the lubber’s hole. Shipwrights and dock-workers use it.”
David paused while Jeremy looked up at the top of the mast. It seemed a long way away.
“The hands consider it cheating to use the lubbers-hole.” He said. “They always climb out on the futtock-shrouds, those overhanging stays. That’s where they show off, playing at being monkeys with their arses in the breeze. Then they climb in over the outside of the crow’s-nest. It sounds more scary than it really is.”
David thought to back off somewhat.
“Anyone watching us won’t expect you to do it the difficult way on your first climb, so you had best go through the hole.”
Jeremy looked up and could see that a short length of ratlines did overhang at the top by quite a few feet. He could see that it would be a bit of a test for a new sailor’s nerve, and decided that he would indeed use the lubber hole… if they got that far.
“Shall I lead again?” Jeremy asked.
“No, I think it’s best if I go first this time. Then, when I’m in the crows-nest I can help you through the hole… I can hold onto your collar and give you a tug.” He said it with a grin, and Jeremy decided this really was quite a lark. It was much more fun than stirring puddings for cook… even though the pudding spoon did have its advantages… and disadvantages. Cook at home could be liberal with her large spoon when he was small and she was cross.
That in turn made him think of Saucy and patted bottoms. Maybe the crows-nest would be the quiet place where David could be persuaded to answer his questions.
The boys set off again. Noise from the deck gradually disappeared.
When they reached the point where they were no longer climbing amongst a lot of furled sail and rigging, there was suddenly nothing around them to disguise the fact that they really were very high up… very, very high-up in fact.
Jeremy paused to watch David take a firm grip of the ratlines of the overhanging futtock shroud. He saw how he took these half-dozen rungs with his left leg hooked over the ratline. While he took his weight on his arms, he used his right leg to take his weight as he moved up. He saw that David never moved a hand unless his left leg was firmly hooked, and his weight taken on his right.
‘That doesn’t look so difficult. I’ve done worse in the oak tree.’ Jeremy said to himself, while contemplating the lubber’s hole that he had been told to use.
After a couple more rungs, he saw David heave himself over the side into the crows-nest. So he started a steady climb.
David’s head appeared in the hole… “This way, and don’t look down till you’re right inside.” He shouted.
But he found that he was shouting at Jeremy’s legs and feet. Jeremy’s head shortly appeared over the top of the rim of the crows-nest.
“Now you can pull on my collar, or anything else you can reach!” Jeremy said with a grin that was just about triumphing over a grimace of mild terror.
“Give me a hand, I don’t feel any too safe here!”
“What on earth are you doing… your uncle will skin me alive if he hears what you just did!”
“Not if I tell him first.” Jeremy said with a smile. “I shall tell him I did it because my father would have been proud. He hasn’t found an answer to that… yet.”
By this time he had fallen in a somewhat dishevelled heap in the bottom of the crows-nest, and David had needed to move quickly to ensure that he didn’t go through the lubber’s-hole… in the wrong direction.
“You’ll be the death of me yet,” David complained. “Shortly after you’ve got yourself killed!”
By this time Jeremy was up and peering over the edge of the crows nest…
“My God! What a view!”
He could see in the distance the green fields of Kent and Essex. The river he could see winding its way to the sea amongst a forest of masts.
“They could charge good money for this view.”
“You’re glad we did it then?” David said with a smile. All he had to do now was to get this madcap friend back down onto the deck in one piece.
“This is the most fun I have ever had!.. its birthdays and Christmas all rolled into one.”
David grinned and put his arm round his young friend’s shoulder and hugged him. Jeremy stretched to get a better view of the deck and forecastle. His uncle Samuel was looking up at them. Jeremy gave him a huge wave, Samuel rather more discreetly waved back and spoke to Lord Montagu who looked up at the boys and saluted them, touching the side of his ornate hat with one finger.
“Well they don’t seem too mad at us.” Said Jeremy.
“In front of the crew they wouldn’t… it’s when they have us in private we shall know exactly what they think.” David replied. “Fortunately, Father has been far too busy to spank me since we came aboard. Do me a favour, and try to keep it that way!”
When Jeremy stretched to wave, David’s hand had slipped from his shoulder to his waist, and now as he turned to look at Greenwich… it slipped that little bit further to rest on Jeremy’s bottom. The younger boy made no comment, he simply looked at his friend and smiled.
While they stood there David continued to caress Jeremy’s bottom.
“It’s nicely plump as bottoms go,” He said. “I can quite see why Saucy couldn’t resist it.”
“You can?” Jeremy asked… “You mean that if I’d paused he would have… gone on like this?”
“He would indeed, though I consider he’s a bit too vigorous. I thought you would prefer a softer stroking.”
“It’s nice. My father used to cuddle me after mama passed away. I missed it when he died.”
“He stroked your bottom?” David was startled… his own father had never done anything like that.
“No, silly! I sat on his lap and he stroked my hair till I went to sleep on him. After Naseby he didn’t have the energy to play rough games. That’s why I loved the time we spent cuddling… I miss him so much.” There was a sniffle as Jeremy tried to remember that he was an officer.”
When he looked round to see what David was doing, he was shocked to see that there were tears on his cheeks too.
“It’s the wind, it makes your eyes water.”
Jeremy put an arm round his friend, and hugged him.
“Don’t take any notice of me,” Jeremy said. “I just get a bit soppy every now and then… I really miss him, but there’s nothing to be done about it.”
“Yes, there is!” David said. “You can rely on me… I shall always be here for a cuddle… just so long as its not too windy.”
David was as good as his word and for the next half-hour he patted and stroked Jeremy, sometimes on his bottom but also squeezing him to him. After all, the only parts of their bodies that were visible from the deck were their heads and shoulders. They most definitely were not overlooked.
While they watched, the last of the barges and rowing boats pulled away from the side of Swiftsure and headed away towards the Tower Steps. Then there was a trumpet call from the quarterdeck.
“Why the trumpet?” Jeremy asked. “Is someone important come aboard?”
“No. We have trumpeters to pass messages to the crew. If its just a local message then a boy will be sent, or maybe a bosun’s whistle call. But if it’s something like setting all the sails, that affects hundreds of the crew, then the best way is a trumpet. Each call has a different meaning. That one is telling the watch to muster on deck and man the yards to set the sails ready to depart.”
At that moment men appeared at the feet of the various stays, and organised themselves. The smaller hands started climbing first.
“Why do the bigger men let the little ones go first, are they that polite?” Jeremy was dubious. Polite sailors didn’t seem right somehow.
“Do you remember I said that the topmen were the youngest?… Well that’s why they are setting out first. That way they don’t have to get past the older men who are slower and will be manning the bigger sails on the lower yards, and… they simply have a lot further to climb so it will take longer for them to be ready. A ship is very organised, you just need to learn to see the pattern.”
Jeremy was, by this stage, hanging over the side of the crows-nest to watch the men climbing. David’s hand had moved quickly from his bottom to Jeremy’s belt… to make sure that he didn’t disappear head first out of the crows-nest.
David pointed to the one in the lead on their mast and said, “That’s Ezra, he’s only sixteen. He was the first person who wanted… I mean was willing to bring me up here.”
Jeremy smiled, “Was he the first man to pat your bottom up here too?”
David had the grace to blush… “That and a bit more… Let’s watch them, we can’t go back down now until the men have set the sails and cleared off the mast.”
Ezra by this time had arrived at the topmost yard. He grinned at the boys, and while standing on the yard and holding on with one-hand saluted them, and shouted above the wind…
“Good-afternoon young-gentlemen, Davy-Sir. Is this Young-gentleman Pepys? The crew say that he’s the youngest ever to refuse the lubber’s hole on the Swiftsure.”
“Yes Ezra. This is Jeremy Pepys. I told him to use the lubber’s hole but he followed me up the overhang of the futtock-shrouds instead. He says his father wouldn’t have approved of using the hole. His father was wounded at Naseby, and had strong views on such matters!”
Ezra looked at Jeremy with some respect, and said, “My sympathy Sir, your father sounds to have been a fine man. Naseby? Was he fighting for King or Crumbwell?”
“The King!” Jeremy said with considerable pride.
“God bless you young-Sir. Then I wish you good fortune. Davy-Sir… make sure he enjoys his first time up here as much as you did!” He grinned, and it was a very cheeky grin. With a wink at David, he moved off onto the yard to make room for the next young sailor as he arrived. Eventually there were about a dozen of them on each side of the yard, and as each passed he greeted the boys in a friendly but respectful way. Jeremy was beginning to feel that perhaps he was indeed an officer.
All this time David had been quietly caressing Jeremy’s bottom, but then stopped to point down at where the men were manning a capstan to raise the anchor, ready to sail.
“Please don’t stop, it’s far too nice to stop. We can’t be seen up here.” Jeremy whispered.
“Sorry!” David said, and replaced his hand on his young friend as requested.
Then without further comment, David moved behind him, pressed his front against Jeremy’s bottom and with his other hand lightly brushed the front of Jeremy’s pants.
“Oh gosh… what are you doing?… oh my…”
“You asked me to explain what Saucy would like to do. It’s also what Ezra meant about the first time he brought me up here. We came up here a lot after that!”
“You mean it isn’t just Saucy then…”
“No indeed, it’s not just Saucy…” David sought an explanation that Jeremy could grasp. “Grown men need their women…” He started.
“But, there aren’t normally women on a ship… are there?”
“No, exactly.” David continued. “That barge just took most of the women ashore, back to the Tower. More will leave at Tilbury and the rest will depart when the Naseby is at The Downs. That’s when the officers’ wives will have to leave, to go back to town by coach. After that the men have to make do alone… or with one another. We boys are a sort of forbidden territory… except for a few like Saucy and Ezra who treat us well, have somewhere quiet… and know how to be discreet… and treat us kindly. The crew disapprove of men who are unkind to us.”
“Well I never…” was all that Jeremy could think of to say. The hand caressing his front had completely removed his ability to string words or even thoughts together.
His member was now totally stiff, and he said quietly, “Davy… does it always get like this. It’s been doing it when I wake up, but I didn’t know it…”
“…could feel so good?” David finished for him with a broad grin
“Yes, that anything could feel so good… oh gracious, no… I mean yes… Oh, please don’t stop!”
David had paused to unlace the front of Jeremy’s breeches. He had no intention of stopping, but he knew that the occasional brief pause would help to make David’s mind up for him.
Jeremy caught his breath enough to ask in wonderment…
“Saucy does this to you… and you let him… in exchange for his pies?”
“Yes, He thinks I do it for the pie, but actually I do it because it’s so nice. I’m not sure that he knows how much I like it.” David was at least honest. “and, I certainly shan’t tell him! I intend to make him work for it.”
“But… what does Saucy get out of it? I mean its your member that’s all a-tingle!”
That made David stop and think. He paused in his caresses, Jeremy wanted to learn more, so he didn’t interrupt this time.
“Well, according to Saucy’s explanation… When you see a beautiful flower, you stop and pull it towards you, you smell it and maybe pick it to put in your room? Simply because its beauty and smell make you feel good.”
“Well for Saucy… he say boys are like that for him. He needs to be with them. Making them feel good makes him happy. Long ago, he might have felt that way about a woman I suppose, enjoyed her and married her, but after thirty years at sea it’s a bit late now.”
“So, he’s a bit weird?” Jeremy was trying to fit all this new knowledge into his picture of how the world worked… Saucy was new and mysterious.
“Well, I wouldn’t say he is weird… but he is most certainly queer!” David laughed.
“Please carry on… I didn’t mean to stop you. Is it that nice feeling? Is that what matters?”
“Not really, the nice feeling is just a step on the way to what matters.” David said.
“Do you want me to take you all the way… to what matters?” He asked.
“Oh please. Is it in Saucy’s galley?”
“No, it’s here…” David replied taking Jeremy’s member out from the now unlaced front of his breeches. “Oh my!…” was all Jeremy could think to say as David started to pull on him.
Jeremy didn’t yet realise it but for the previous half hour David had been preparing him for this moment. It was a moment he would remember with delight when he was old and had grand-children of his own… assuming he lived that long.
David’s efforts were producing results…
“It won’t be spectacular, I think you will still be… when it happens. You don’t look ready yet.”
“I think I’m ready, but I need a piss first!”
“No, you don’t!” David said, quickly redoubling his efforts.
The younger boy simply couldn’t believe what was happening. He had never felt anything so intense, anything that felt so dangerous. His legs began to collapse. The world became still, the wind disappeared and the gulls fell silent, then….
“Oh my God… I can’t… Oh mercy… my… oh!”
That was when young Jeremy, only at sea for a few hours, and only recently a freshly appointed young-gentleman… came for the very first time, and enjoyed it more than you could possibly imagine.
When David let go of his throbbing organ, Jeremy sat down with a bump. David again moved quickly to ensure that he didn’t go down the lubber’s hole.
They sat there for at least ten minutes, while Jeremy recovered his wits.
“What on earth was that?” He asked.
“That was why men want women. It’s why babies get born, and why Saucy wants us!”
That was the moment when Jeremy began to lose his innocence, and began to understand the full enormity of what life had to offer.
“You mean men feel that… every time?”
“Yes, I’m sure your father told you how babies are made… but that feeling is why they are made. Without that feeling fathers would need to want children, but that feeling is enough on its own… children happen because grown men need that feeling. They even pay for it. Lot’s of the women going off in the barge were doxies who do it for money.”
“Gracious me. But, Saucy…” Jeremy began.
“Saucy has us, he doesn’t need a woman to get that feeling.” David said.
“Is that why he gives out pies?”
“Yes, that’s why he gives pies to any boy willing to…” David’s explanation trailed off. He wasn’t yet ready to tell the younger boy everything. He still hadn’t fully come to terms with the rights and wrongs of all that he had done since coming aboard to join his father.”
That was when Ezra stuck his head up through the hole…
“Hello, I’m sorry to interrupt, and I’m not coming up through the hole… I wouldn’t dare, I’d never hear the end of it!” He grinned and went on. “We just got told to add all sail. Swiftsure is going to sea, we’re making for Tilbury, I hear. You should climb back down as soon as the watch clears the mast. Sitting up here under sail is normally a punishment. Once the ship starts rolling you’ll get terribly sea sick.”
The boys thanked him, and returned to looking over the side of the crows-nest. The yards were alive with sailors, rhythmically releasing more and more of the sail area.
“The sail was made smaller by taking in tucks with knotted bits of rope, it’s called reefing.” David explained “Now they want more area of sail they undo the knots, each time a reef is released the ship has a bit more sail.”
“But how do they undo the knots? The weight of canvas must make it impossible.”
David grinned… “It’s a neat trick, the reef-knot is special. Sailors use it where they want a quick way to undo a knot. It’s not safe for much else.”
He took a piece of twine from his pocket and tied the ends in a reef-knot.
“Pull on that… Is it strong?” Jeremy tugged at the ends and the knot just tightened.
“Watch… keep pulling.” David took a loose end and pulled… in the opposite direction across the knot. Suddenly the knot seemed to turn inside out, became a slip-knot and smoothly undid. “You see how they do it? They just reach down for an end and pull it backwards towards them, across the knot, the weight of the sail does the rest.”
“That,” said Jeremy… “is really clever.”
“Is that how you tie the waist-cord of your pants when you go looking for pies? ” Jeremy asked with a cheeky grin… “Is it a good knot to use on my pants when coming up here?”
“No, it isn’t! You wouldn’t want your breeches to fall round your ankles on the ratlines. Dropping your pants can safely be left until we’re out of sight. I’m happy to do it the slow way for you.”
By this time the crew had returned to the deck.
“Time to go down. We’ll go down by the lubber’s hole, most men do. The other way is much more difficult on the way down. I’ll go first. Sit on the edge opposite the ratlines, put your feet in place, grab the ratlines with both hands and then pull yourself towards them. Remember…”
“Don’t look down!” Jeremy chorused with his friend.
“Yes, don’t look down. But, do remember to stop climbing down when you reach the sea!” They both laughed.
A sailor was waiting for them when they reached the deck.
“Young-sirs, you are to report to the quarterdeck.”
David nodded his thanks, and headed towards the stern, climbing the steps of the companionway to the quarterdeck.
They went straight across to Lord Montagu. Jeremy took the initiative, he thought he stood the best chance of talking their way out of trouble…
“Sir, you wanted us. Reporting for duty sir.”
“Ah yes,” Montagu pretended absentmindedness. “I did… has David been looking after you? He’s explained the do’s and don’ts of ship life?”
“Yes sir, indeed he has sir. I’ve learned so much this afternoon.”
“You have even been to the top of the mainmast I hear… Was that wise? It was one of the don’ts that he should have told you about.”
“Oh sir, that wasn’t David’s doing… I insisted. It seemed to me that to keep the respect of the men I would have to do it sooner or later. Sooner just seemed a lot easier than later.”
Whether this was a sound argument is itself open to argument. But, it did give Lord Montagu an opportunity to look on the events with indulgence.
“Well, I’m certain that your father would be proud of you… even if you made your uncle very nervous.”
“Oh, he needn’t have worried, David made sure I was safe… “One hand for the Navy and one hand for yourself!” He taught me carefully, before we started up.”
“There was no shame in using the lubber’s hole on your first climb… I hope he explained.”
“Oh yes Sir, he did!”
“Actually, to be honest sir,” David interjected. “he didn’t use the hole. I did tell him to, but he said his father wouldn’t have approved of him doing the easy thing in front of the men.”
“Gracious me… you went out underneath and up the side on the futtocks? I haven’t done that these thirty years. I did it as a young man, for exactly the same reason you did, and I’ve carefully avoided it ever since. I take my hat off to you Young-gentleman Pepys. Yes, I most certainly do!”
He turned to Jeremy’s uncle
“Well, my newest page seems to be making an excellent start. I think that you can be proud of him.”
Samuel smiled, a slightly strained smile, “When I saw him going out, up and over the side of the crows-nest. I held my breath!”
“It was quite safe uncle, I always had a knee locked over the ratline before I let go with a hand.”
“Oh dear, he even sounds as if he knows what he’s doing! I think that’s even more worrying. Next he’ll want to be a gun-captain.”
“Oh yes, can I please? At least a powder-monkey, I’m small and quick!”
Lord Montagu looked serious. “Now then David… I’ve told you what you are to do when the guns start firing… haven’t I?”
“Yes, Father. I mean… Aye-aye Sir! Jeremy and I are agreed that we shall always do the right thing in a battle. You can depend on us, Sir!”
Lord Montagu looked satisfied for a moment, then he looked uncertain, and then he smiled and looked out to sea.”
By this time, the Swiftsure was under sail and well down the Thames, heading for the Buoy of the Nore at Chatham where other great ships were riding at anchor, before going onwards towards the sea.
It being March, it was already dark outside and as the ship raced into the darkness, Lord Montagu’s stateroom was a’glitter with candles as they sat down to dinner with a few of the senior officers.
Jeremy remarked to his uncle that it was a beautiful room with its oak panelling, paintings and decoration.
Samuel smiled and assured him that what he saw was a pure illusion.
“All that you see can be removed in a few minutes, when the men clear-for-action. Behind the panelling are some of the great guns of this ship. Everything you see can be removed to make this a powerful gun deck. His Lordship would just have to eat elsewhere until the battle were over. In fact he needs to be understanding in such matters in peacetime, because the crew has to practise clearing for action. Captains who are too careful of their comforts, and don’t allow the men time for practise may need to ride home in a rowing boat after their ship is sunk from under them.”
“I see.” Said Jeremy, mentally taking notes for his future career as a captain.