A Royal Achievement
David paced the quarterdeck all that remained of the afternoon.
As always, there was a Marine on duty, and when the watch changed the Marine that replaced him was the one that had been with him earlier.
As David paced he caused their paths to meet.
“Good afternoon, Marine. It’s a fortunate wind. A good day all in all.”
Then he smiled. “It’s so nice a day, I wish I were in a position to climb the mast, but that will have to wait a few days yet.”
“I imagine it will, Sir.” The Marine said with a small smile, enough for it to register on David, too small to be seen from the maindeck.”
Then… “Are you sure you are the same young-gentleman that I met earlier?”
“No… I don’t think I am.” David replied thoughtfully.
“I really don’t think I am. But, it’s not been a bad day, taken as a whole.”
“I was proud to have been with your father at Cadiz.” The Marine said. “I’m just as proud to have served with his son today.”
David tipped his hat to the Marine. “Thank you Marine. I’m pleased to have had you with me… at my Cadiz”
That was when David smiled, a beautiful, radiant smile.
He now knew exactly what he had achieved.
The men saw his smile, and a restrained cheer came up to him, then another and a third.
It had indeed been quite a day.
It had created a man amongst men… the hardest of men.
The Navy didn’t give its approval lightly, and to a man the maindeck approved.
David felt a new purpose to his life, a spring in his step… even if it was a careful spring in a cautious step.
It was time to go and check on Saucy again, time to make sure that Toby was alright too. He would speak to Jeremy about getting the surgeon replaced. Jeremy could do it.
There was a lot to do. There were men he could rely on.
Not all of them were over five foot tall… and none of them was his father.
Just for a moment he envied Jeremy.
It did indeed take Jeremy and Toby’s combined efforts to get him to bed that night, and the following night. He was unable to bend or kneel, and his friends needed to log-roll him down onto a straw pallet that they had made for him. His hammock was completely out of the question. Mornings were even more difficult, after a night of no exercising the muscles were stiff, and the wounds cracked as he walked.
It was morning, two days after what David now half-humorously referred to as his execution… meaning the day that the young-David died. Since that day it was only Jeremy that ever saw the youngster that had once inhabited David.
That first night he had cried at bedtime, and Jeremy had needed to cuddle him until he calmed down. Jeremy would always be the only one who knew that he had cried that night. Toby had withdrawn to give them some privacy. Saucy had very sensibly gone to sleep.
Jeremy had cried with him… love, solidarity, sympathy? Who can tell.
When David relaxed, particularly when he was trying to sleep, he had sudden very vivid daydreams… of the gun… and his father’s grim face. Several times that first night, Jeremy had to gently wake David from the dream that he seemed to be having.
What distressed Jeremy was that David was reliving his ordeal while lying with his eyes open.
He was pleading for mercy in a way that simply never happened in reality. The appeals to their reason were falling on deaf ears in his waking nightmare, as they would have done in the stateroom.
All that Jeremy could do was to cuddle him until merciful real sleep arrived.
By day, Jeremy was hollow-eyed and exhausted. His Uncle Samuel worried for him. He was determined that something needed to be done about his Navy. He was quite sure that he didn’t want Jeremy to be part of it and was equally sure that parting the boy from his friend was not an option. He spent much of that week in deep thought while they waited for the King to reappear.
David was utterly changed. In daylight, he was sharp, alert and absolutely without fault. He visited Saucy, but Jeremy, alert to the changes in his friend, could detect that he visited Saucy mainly because he had caused the injuries and because he, as an officer ought to care for the men under his command. That he felt affection for the old man had become secondary to a sense of duty.
Duty now sat heavily on David’s young shoulders.
Something in him, some of the affection had died, and the ghost of the young David was something that only Jeremy was allowed to see, and that only after dark and in the privacy of sleep.
The Captain and Samuel joked with David. When they tried to jolly him along he replied politely and with wit and enthusiasm. They were pleased that he was recovering well, but Jeremy could detect that David was reacting with restraint and careful thought.
His responses mirrored his superiors’ own thoughts. David no longer revealed anything of himself.
A week later and David was still not very forthcoming about how he felt.
To the senior officers he was outwardly happy and confident. It was at night that he needed Jeremy close at hand, to keep the nightmares away.
Jeremy noticed that David’s hammock was now slung close enough to his that they could hold hands. Sometimes it was just because it was nice… but sometimes because it was terribly necessary.
There was one incident that frightened Jeremy really badly. David was restless and his arm was hanging down. Jeremy couldn’t quite reach his hand, so he gripped David round the wrist instead… and squeezed reassuringly.
Biting off the scream almost as soon as it started he went rigid. In his waking nightmare the kindly Marine had just tightened his grip… and that fourth stroke was about to fall… again. It never did of course, but that only lengthened the wait for the pain that would never come.
Jeremy was devastated.
During the day, David genuinely was supremely happy. A great weight had lifted from his shoulders.
To be the son of a Naval giant like Admiral Lord Montagu had been a crushing burden for twelve year old shoulders. His father was forever commenting and criticising. David had spent the last year and a bit wondering how he could ever fill his father’s shoes. That he would have to one day was obvious. That he didn’t want to was of no importance to anyone that mattered. It was important to him, but… he didn’t matter.
Until the day of his execution, he had feared the moment when he had to lead men into battle. His young mind couldn’t comprehend where the courage would come from for coping with an overwhelming fear of injury and death.
He now knew that it came when you needed it.
As the smallest person on the ship he had been unable to see how he could one day be able to ask giants of men like these to follow him into battle. He hadn’t believed that his leadership and calmness would alone be sufficient to carry them with him when the time came to hazard their lives.
Now he knew that his own example would be sufficient.
To his immense relief, he no longer needed to worry about his father’s opinion.
In fact he had no interest in his father, other than as an aid to rapid promotion within the Navy. He was polite and obedient to him, just as any junior officer would be who had a privileged position… who had an Admiral as a family friend.
His greatest satisfaction was the way that the hands, especially the topmen and able-seamen treated him. They deferred to him now as if he was a real officer. When he was in a hurry they stepped out of his way.
It wasn’t as if they had taken to treating him as an equal… that would have been nice enough in his life before the day.
It was that they treated him with respect.
At first he thought that it was because he had accepted the beating without crying or wetting himself or doing any of the things he might have done… the childish things that he and they would have expected a twelve year old to do.
Those were the things he hadn’t done.
He concluded that it wasn't not behaving like a twelve year old that had caused the men to change the way they reacted, to treat him as a man, as an officer.
They respected him because of what he had done.
Not that he had survived the beating. They were sailors, they knew that the beating was survivable. No, they respected him because, despite having been beaten unconscious, when the bosun had finished, David had instinctively shaken his hand… made him feel better about what his duty had caused him to do.
Then he had spoken kindly to the Marine that had been prepared to hold him down.
The Marines in particular, now saluted smartly, stepped aside and stood to attention to let him pass.
What the men were making clear to him was that he was now someone they respected, not as a brave boy, but as a man among men.
The crew expected him to progress in the Navy, based on ability and character, not on family. He had received more than a few requests…
“Please Young-Gentleman Montagu Sir!… Remember me... Philips Sir, when you need a carpenter. I’ll have my warrant just when you get your first command… Don’t forget me. Sir!”
Always there was “Sir!” and he could tell that it wasn’t just because he was an officer. They now said Sir… because they meant it.
That was the thing… They meant it, and their respect was something his father the noble Lord could never have bought for him. It was something that he could never have bought for himself with either drinks all-round… or with a rope-end.
Well maybe that last bit was wrong. It could, it had been bought with a rope-end, but used on his rump, not theirs!
What of his father, the noble Lord? What was his reaction? Was he sad at the day's work or pleased at the men's reaction. No-one, especially David, not even Samuel knew what Montagu was thinking of events, and of his son.
David hadn’t spoken unnecessarily to his father since that day. He hadn’t avoided him, he just hadn’t made an opportunity to meet him. Occasionally they were on the quarterdeck at the same time, but David didn’t cross to talk to him.
For Lord Montagu, his son’s aloofness meant that he was unable to heal the breach. He could hardly be seen to make the first move. His heart went out to his son, but that was more than his hand could be seen to do.
His Lordship knew that the crew knew… the beating had been at his instigation.
The crew could see that despite his Admiral's order to punish the boy, their Captain had minimised it, eight strokes was lenient on a Naval scale of draconian punishment, that much was clear to everyone.
That he had been pleased to be able to call the punishment off at four strokes, was also well known, and the men approved of that too. The Captain’s stock with the crew had risen too that day.
But, it was obvious to everyone… Without Lord Montagu’s insistence that the matter should not be over-looked, David would have got off scot-free, as would any other noble-lord’s son.
As it was, he had been beaten into blood-stained unconsciousness, to satisfy the Navy's need for discipline, and perhaps a father’s need to not show favouritism.
The beating was seen by the crew as not the severest they had heard of even for a boy-officer, but… It had been severe enough to have genuinely needed to be stopped by the surgeon. The surgeon was known to be old-Navy. The crew knew he wouldn't have stopped things lightly. The crew knew what they knew... David had taken a beating.
Actually, David no longer cared about his father, one way or the other… when awake.
That his father had failed to act to protect him, told him more about his father than he had ever wanted to know. Knowing it, he simply felt… orphaned, and he found himself envying his friend. Jeremy had his idealised memory of a father who had loved him and who had always seen the best in him.
David believed… he knew… that he had a father who when the chips were down owed more to the Navy than he did to his son.
Meanwhile, Jeremy had decided that it was time for him to do something about the surgeon. He set things going by having breakfast with his uncle.
“Uncle, what is your opinion of the surgeon?”
“He appears competent, what more do we need to know? Why do you ask?”
“He seemed very interested in David’s… event.”
“Well, that’s why he was there, to keep an eye on things and to stop the punishment if it started to get out of hand… as he did.”
“I thought he spent too much of his time looking at me… He made me feel uncomfortable.”
“The whole day made me feel uncomfortable!” His uncle said. “If that had been you I’d have tried to save you from it… I’m not sure how, perhaps by withdrawing my approval of your enlistment, and taking you ashore. I don’t know… It should simply never have happened. I’m sure that the Captain would have found a way out if Lord Montagu had said that he wanted it stopped. No-one would have been surprised.”
“Yes. Thank you Uncle.” He smiled. “I’ll remind you of that when I find myself with a gunner’s daughter to kiss.”
He paused to get the discussion back to where he wanted it to go.
“Uncle, do you think the surgeon’s interest in David and Toby and me is… I don’t know the word…”
“Normal, sensible… kindly?” His uncle offered.
“Yes, it’s all those I had in mind. He was really creepy after it was over, wanted to know if I had been excited!”
“And, had you?” His uncle asked gently.
“No, I mean yes… No, not excited, but I was… unmanned by it.”
“The surgeon took advantage of that to…?” Neither of them was prepared to name it.
“I think he tried to… He wanted to watch me rub ointment on David’s… wounds!”
“Oh, he did, did he?”
“Actually, no he didn’t. I was the senior officer in the orlop and I ordered him to leave. He wasn’t happy but he left. He seems to bother Toby… the loblolly boy.”
“Bother him? Have you seen him being bothered?”
“No, not like that… bothered… Toby seems worried about being around him.”
“I see.” Said Samuel, and by this time he had a fairly clear idea of what might be bothering the boys, even if they didn’t… or they couldn’t say, which was much the same thing.
Jeremy decided to chance his arm… “What would you say if I asked you if perhaps he might have anti-royalist sympathies?”
His uncle smiled… “I would suspect that you were trimming your sails, to sail close to the wind.”
“Jeremy, just tell me what you want me to do, and having heard your worries, I will give it some serious thought, I promise you.”
“I think that a lot of us would feel more confident if he wasn’t around… if he was sent ashore.”
“That’s a drastic step!” Samuel said “Barber-Surgeon’s Hall authorised him, they gave him his warrant, what could I tell them? That he upsets boys?”
“Perhaps that you personally find him unpleasant to be around… You are Secretary to the Navy, do you really need a reason?” Jeremy had a point to make, and had decided to abandon subtlety. “As you said about David, I’m sure that you, the Captain or his Lordship could find a way out if they wanted to… if someone asked them to.”
“I think I would need to be more diplomatic than that!” Samuel ruminated. “Leave it with me, I shall make some enquiries, I’ll see if someone has more than just a bad feeling to offer Surgeon’s Hall.”
“Thank you Uncle. I really don’t want to tell you what unmanned me that he commented on, but honestly I couldn’t help it, and it really was very unpleasant of him to try to make something of it.”
“What was it that…” Samuel started, but then he noticed that Jeremy had blushed a bright scarlet. Samuel’s systematic mind ran down the list of things that could embarrass an eleven year old boy, that he couldn’t say out loud. Came to the right item, and…
“I see, yes, I think I see. I understand. In that case I will do my best to find us a new surgeon.” He went on. “Meanwhile stay out of his way.”
“That’s the thing… I can, but the loblollys can’t. It’s them that I’m worried about really. He isn’t going to touch an officer, but the boys under his command… it really isn’t proper. Toby was really upset about something, I could tell.”
He pulled himself together, decided that his bid had been made and registered.
“Thank you Uncle, and thank you for breakfast.”
It was time to take his burning cheeks elsewhere,
Samuel took the question to the Captain.
“Tell me if the question causes you problems, but… What is your view of the surgeon? I get the impression that he took a most strange interest in Jeremy’s reaction to the punishment of his friend. He seems to have asked Jeremy if he became excited by it. By excited I mean…”
“I know exactly what you mean!” Came the reply. “If the Navy had a good supply of excellent surgeons I would have sent him packing a long time ago. But…”
He paused, here was a heaven-sent opportunity.
“Can you as Secretary of the Navy do something about the surgeons we are sent? Barber-Surgeons Hall sends us men they have examined for competence, but there is little incentive for them to examine why they want to risk their lives at sea. It would seem that for most its because they are unable to make a life and career ashore. Our surgeon is a typical result, highly competent, just the man to have in battle, but, yes I know, the boys can find him very trying.”
Samuel thought about that.
“This surgeon is typical, but is he worse than many?”
“Not really,” The Captain replied “just less able to hide his flaws, and in many ways, to know what his flaws are makes it easier… secret vices are harder to control.”
“If we replaced him… would we get a better one?”
“Probably not. More likely we would get a drunk, an incompetent or another good surgeon with a bad habit, one we might take months to discover and start making moves to control.”
“How do you feel about ours then, in that context?”
“I think… I couldn’t support the idea as you present it, although I understand and support your worries.”
“Why is that?”
“Because it wouldn’t be fair on the men or good for the ship.”
“But, it would be good for the boys, wouldn’t it?” Samuel asked.
The Captain’s reply was interesting.
“Every voyage, one or two of the boys will suffer a significant injury, the crew many more. This surgeon treats them more than competently, with great skill in fact. So you see my problem. It may well be that he bothers a few, but I promise you, that is balanced many times over by the injured ones that he saves from crippling injury.”
The Captain paused to emphasise the point he wanted to make.
“You’ll find that’s a bargain that the crew and the boys themselves consider acceptable.”
Samuel immediately saw the truth in the Captain’s viewpoint.
“Perhaps you are right, but something needs to be done. Would he listen to a reprimand?” Samuel asked.
“Realising he was caught out, we’d lose him at the next port. Carrying a Barber Surgeons warrant, and a reputation among crews for competence and sobriety he could easily get another berth, with other boys in another ship.”
“Well, I’ll warn the boys to stay away from the orlop unless they have business there.” It was all that Samuel could think of.
Curiously, Jeremy was having a very similar conversation with Toby.
“Toby, what is it that you dislike so much about the surgeon?”
Toby looked unhappy. “Why? It doesn’t matter who I like or dislike. He’s the surgeon… and a very good one. No-one is going to worry about what I think.”
“Well, I’m worried… and I did throw him out of the orlop last week when he wanted to watch the two of us working on David’s injured bottom. I got the feeling that he was more interested in the bottom than the injury.”
Toby paused to think. There really wasn’t a lot to lose, an experienced loblolly could easily find another ship if the surgeon threw him out. He was confident that David and Jeremy would intercede on his behalf if necessary, to see that he was looked after. So maybe there was nothing to lose by answering Jeremy’s question… after all it was only a question.
“I didn’t mind when I was a kid, ten or eleven. What he wanted was no more than I did with other boys. But, now he still wants childish things, when what I want is to get ashore at the next port and pick up a woman. I don’t fancy the surgeon, I never did… but now he’s…”
“Creepy?” Jeremy offered.
“Yes, creepy. The other day, when young-gentleman David came down… why did he have to be so… creepy?” Toby asked, obviously puzzled. “Why couldn’t he have just treated him if all that he wanted was to touch his bottom… Why be so… unnecessary?”
“So, you want a woman, but the surgeon wants you, and he’s a man.” Jeremy offered. “I can understand that, but why isn’t he like Saucy? Saucy wants to play with me but he’s nice about it. When I duck out of his way, he just chuckles.”
“Surgeon sometime hits me when I refuse!” Toby grunted. “He knows I’ll refuse before he asks, but he hits me anyway. Does he think that will make me like him? I sometimes think he just likes hitting me.”
“Well, I’ve asked my uncle to do something about him. He really upset me after David’s beating. I think the Captain owes us something after beating David just to please His Lordship. I’ve asked for the surgeon to be sent ashore, we need a new one.”
Toby’s answer when it came really startled him.
“Don’t do that! For God’s sake don’t let them send him ashore… The crew, we’d never forgive you!” Toby yelled, his face going red.
“Why ever not?” Jeremy was genuinely puzzled. Toby wanted his daily misery to be kept on board. This made no sense.
The answer would not have surprised Samuel.
“Because he’s a good surgeon, the best in the fleet. We’re incredibly lucky to have him” Toby paused, then, “I’m not lucky, and you aren’t… maybe others too. But the ship is, the fleet is. It’s not what a few boys want that matters!”
To confirm his opinion, Toby said…
“I watched him save Ed Barlow when the capstan threw him into the hold. He had a hole in his skull the size of my hand. Surgeon used a fine knife to lift the pieces back into place, and then built a bandage up to protect it.” He paused. “ He was brilliant!”
“May I say…” Toby was cautious, he was speaking to an officer as well as a friend.
“You are quite wrong about the captain. I feel sure he didn’t beat David to please His Lordship. He isn’t like that. I’m pretty sure he did it, and the way he did it, was to do exactly what it’s done. David’s a new man, and I think a better one.”
Then he looked embarrassed, but hadn’t yet finished setting Jeremy right…
“Look, you’ve been on board less than a month, it’s easy to miss what’s important to the ship. Give it time, don’t fuck things up by being hasty!” Then he looked shocked at what he had said, and started to apologise.
Jeremy was waving his apology away as unnecessary as he climbed thoughtfully back to the maindeck.
He decided to call his uncle off, before things went too far. He found him on the quarterdeck.
“The surgeon must stay…” They said it almost together!
“He’s too good a surgeon.” Samuel said.
“The ship needs him!” Jeremy answered. “I was wrong, very wrong.”
“Don’t worry, there’s no damage done. I spoke to the Captain. He said the same thing.”
“The trouble is, everyone knows that he makes the boys lives a misery with his attention, but no-one dare speak to him in case he leaves us at the next port and takes passage on another ship.” Samuel was clearly bothered. “I really don’t see what can be done, except encourage the boys to stay away from him
“There was one thing I learned uncle.” Jeremy started and then embarrassment took over for a moment.
“Go on. I know it’s a problem, but we won’t solve it by being shy… spit it out lad.”
“Well, the thing is, Toby says that when he was young and it was just a game, the surgeon was fun to play with. It only became a problem when Toby grew up a bit and started wanting women. That’s it… the whole of the problem, if I understood him correctly.” The last bit was more of a question than a statement.
Samuel immediately understood. It wasn’t a subject he had much contact with, he was a famous lady’s man after all. But, he did think he could see the truth in what Jeremy had said.
“I think,” He began slowly. “I think, the problem is that the surgeon likes best boys who are old enough to know their own mind. Younger boys he plays with in the hope that they will still want to play when they are older, but most boys grow out of it, and then he resents their growing disinterest.”
“That way, he becomes nasty to most of the boys, and nobody but the ones who are like him… like him.” Jeremy calculated. “So, most of the boys dislike him, he dislikes most of the boys, but only a few are happy… The result is that almost everyone thinks he is creepy and a bit of a monster. One day it will boil over, like it did with me, and the ship will lose the best surgeon in the fleet.”
One day, Jeremy would make a great naval tactician.
“I need some fresh air, and a few more opinions. But first I need to talk to Saucy, to see how he is and… what he thinks.” Jeremy stood up. “Thank you for listening Uncle, and for speaking to the Captain. Can I speak of this again, when I’m better informed, I’m terribly sorry for going off at half-cock.”
“Don’t worry about it lad, the Captain is equally bothered and he has no solution either, though I probably shouldn’t say so. A ship is a very closed community. When things go wrong the solution can only come from within the ship.”
“I agree, Saucy is an excellent place to start. If I’m not mistaken he already knows the answer. He has done for a very long time… He’s been befriending boys much longer than the surgeon has been bothering them.”
A curious thought came to Samuel… He suddenly realised that he was speaking to an officer when he spoke to Jeremy.
Ships really did bring out the strangeness in men… and boys. Boys acting like men and men behaving like small boys. Samuel was glad that he was not a Captain.
Saucy was no longer in the orlop, so Jeremy didn’t need to avoid the surgeon. He found the old cook, sitting on a coil of rope in a sunny corner of the maindeck.
“It’s good to see you out in the sun Saucy. How are the burns?”
“Thank you young Sir. Well, they aren’t so much painful as uncomfortable. They only really hurt if I stretch the skin. I can’t lift anything yet, so I’m excused duty.”
“His Lordship excused you?”
“Yes, he has been to see me twice.” He paused, working out how to phrase the next bit. “Mind you, I think he was hoping young David would be there. I hear they haven’t spoken yet.”
“Poor David, the bosun orphaned him that day.” Jeremy said sadly.
“Oh, that bad eh? Well, the Admiral had the old Naval rule, one hand for himself and one for the Navy. The Navy’s hand won that day. He certainly did what was best for the Navy. I wonder if David will ever forgive him.”
Jeremy looked serious. “Maybe not in time. My guess is that he won’t really understand the mind of an admiral until he stands on the quarterdeck of his own flagship… and, that may well be too late for the pair of them.”
He brightened, remembering why he was there. To enquire after Saucy’s health of course, but he had another purpose.
“Tell me Saucy, how is it that you get on well with boys, while the surgeon causes them to run a mile to avoid contact with him?”
For a moment Saucy was bewildered by the abrupt tack that their conversation had taken.
“I suppose, you’re right… I hate to admit it, but the only real difference between us is that I end up with boys as friends and he… doesn’t.”
He smiled. “Actually that isn’t quite true. If you ask the youngest ones, the young powder-monkeys and the other two loblolly-boys… you may be surprised.”
“Thank you Saucy, the more I look at this, the harder it is to see what’s actually going on. After he upset me I asked Uncle Samuel to get rid of him, but everyone persuades me that is a bad idea.” He drew himself up to his full four foot two inches…
“Well, if the ship needs him, then he needs to be less of a pain in the arse!”
“I assume he is a pain in the arse?” He asked his older and worldly-wise friend.
“Oh yes, from time to time, he most certainly is. The ship owes a big debt to some of the boys. Some of them are old enough and strong enough to put him in his place… but they all know the ship needs him.”
“Thank you, I see I’ll need to set my own dislike to one side, for the moment. But, I’d dearly like to understand. I think I’m simply too young to understand… and it isn’t often that you’ll hear me say that.”
“You, know, you may be right about that.” Saucy said with a knowing grin.
“Would you like me to help you understand?” He asked.
“Yes, please, by all means, so long as its not a practical demonstration… I’m not ready for that.”
“No you aren’t, and that I think is at the heart of the surgeon’s problems. Everything has its season, and if a farmer ignores that he goes broke.”
“So… Please explain.”
“Let’s start with young David, he’s a year older than you. Do you think that year makes a difference? Pardon an old man’s bluntness, but which of you takes the lead? Is more aggressive in…” He gestured towards Jeremy’s white breeches.
Jeremy blushed. “He is… certainly. I don’t seem to have the same need as he does. It’s very nice and I enjoy what he does, but I don’t seem to need it the way he does.”
“Exactly!” Saucy said in triumph. “Exactly. He needs it, I need it and the surgeon needs it. But you… you just enjoy it when it’s offered.”
“Now,” He said, I suggest that you go and ask the younger loblollies and the smallest powder monkeys. Ask them what they think of the surgeon.”
So that’s what Jeremy did next.
He sought out another of the loblolly-boys and found him at the far end of the orlop, under the foc’sle end of the deck.
“Loblolly, I’d like to ask you a question.”
The boy didn’t look happy. Officers only spoke to him if he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Mostly they just motioned for a mate to flick him out of the way with a rope-end.
“Sir? I don’t know nuffink Sir. I wasn’t there Sir.”
“I know you weren’t, that wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to ask you about the surgeon. What is it that you like about the surgeon? You do like him. So I’m told.”
The loblolly looked puzzled.
“Well, Sir. He’s the surgeon. I work for him, he looks after me… us I mean.”
“But when you’re off-duty, is he nice? Is he fun to be with, or just a pain in the arse?”
“Well, he can be a pain in the arse, but only when he’s being fun.” Loblolly blushed.
Jeremy grinned. “But, you don’t mind?”
“Nothing to mind.” Loblolly said. “If I’m nice to him, he’s nice to me. If I tell him to fuck off…” He blushed again. “Sorry Sir, didn’t mean to swear Sir!”
“What happens if you tell him to fuck off?” Jeremy asked gently.
“Nuffink Sir, never needed to. He’s never asked for anyffink I didn’t want. Sir.”
“So, what he wants is fun? You are happy to have fun with him, and he is nice?”
“Yessir, really Sir, he’s just fun. I didn’t know how to have fun until he showed me.”
“So, you wouldn’t want the Captain to find another surgeon, one who didn’t want fun from you?”
“Oh no Sir! Honest Sir!”
“By the way Loblolly, what’s your real name, I can’t go on calling you Loblolly, it’s not polite.”
“That’s nice of you Sir. It’s Arfur Sir.” Then he looked shyly from under his eyebrows. “Was it that you wanted to have fun Sir?” He spread his knees.
“Oh my goodness me. No, really, no. I just wanted to check that you were happy working for the surgeon. Just in case… you weren’t.”
Jeremy had succeeded in embarrassing himself. Good for him, I say.