A Royal Achievement
Jeremy had been asking the youngest of the Loblollies for his thoughts on the surgeon, and his interest in his young assistants.
“Was it that you wanted to have fun Sir?” The loblolly boy spread his knees invitingly.
“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.
“Thank you Sir. I do like the surgeon, honestly Sir. Fun is nice Sir. I expect I’ll grow out of it, like Toby has. But, Sir, I likes it Sir.”
It was the longest conversation he had ever had with an officer.
Jeremy had a lot to think about. Maybe it was time to go back to where it all started.
“Toby, Can I ask you something? The surgeon, does he mistreat the smaller boys? Is he a danger to them?”
“No, not in the way you mean. The only danger is that one day they will grow out of wanting it, most of them anyway, and then he’ll get angry, and then… not a danger, but he won’t be nice to be around, and you can’t avoid him on a ship.”
“So, not everyone grows out of wanting his fun? Is there someone I can ask?”
Toby sat and thought about the question, and what answering it meant, then…
“I can’t say Sir. I’d suggest you ask Ezra… He might be able to help, with names I mean.”
“I… see…” Jeremy thought about that. “Yes, that sounds an excellent idea. I know Ezra well, I often talk to him up amongst the yards. While Young-Gentleman Montagu has been laid up, I haven’t been up there as much as I like.”
He grinned, the day was looking up. “Maybe it’s a good afternoon for a climb. Thank you Toby.”
“Oh and… Uncle Samuel and I have agreed that we shan’t go on asking the Captain to do something about the surgeon. Everyone agrees that the ship needs him more than you need a quiet life!” He grinned and left.
Toby sat and shook his head. He would never understand officers. They seemed unable to grasp the realities of his life in the orlop. But, young Pepys was doing better than most… at least he was trying.
Jeremy kept an eye on the yards, and when he saw that they were clear he scampered up to the crows-nest… and waited.
He watched the other ships of the Summer Fleet as they sailed majestically with a fair westerly breeze filling their sails from almost dead astern. The sea was calm and the ships had no need to heel or tack, so his ride in the crows-nest was pure joy, with none of the sea-sickness that a northerly gale would have cost him on this course.
He leaned out, and waited. The crew were great gossips and the news would be spreading that the Pepys boy was alone up in the crows-nest… and once again he hadn’t used the lubber’s-hole, even though the ship was under full sail
He was not in the least surprised to see Ezra wave, making rude gestures to the other sailors who were off-watch and lounging in the sun. He sensed ribald remarks as Ezra walked to the stays and started up the ratlines. What was said down there was lost in the wind, but the meaning of the hand gesture that a few of the men made was not lost on him.
Jeremy knew exactly what the men thought Ezra was after… and blushed. Young-gentlemen did not do that in the crows-nest with a top-man, and even if they did they ought to be discreet enough for the crew to not notice.
Ezra appeared over the edge of the crows nest and hopped down to safety.
“Good afternoon Young-Gentleman Pepys.” He mock bowed.
“Hello Ezra, what a wonderful day. We’re making good time.”
“You would like a good time?”
Jeremy groaned, it was a running joke. He would make an innocent remark and Ezra would cap it with something dubious, if not downright dirty. That is, if they were up the mast. On the deck he was as polite and dutiful as their respective roles demanded. Naval discipline could hardly have it any other way.
After they had spent a while looking at ships and criticising the state of the rigging on one of them, Ezra asked.
“Well, are we here for your pleasure or mine?”
“So you had me climb the mast for…?”
“I need to ask your opinion of something.”
“Whether or not to get rid of the surgeon?” Ezra asked.
“What? How?…” Jeremy was startled. “How did you guess that?”
“Toby. He was worried you’d go off half-cock and leave us with some incompetent old drunk to look after us.”
“Ah, yes. He was worried, but I’ve already assured him that Uncle Samuel and I have abandoned that idea.”
“Yes, he told me that too, but that you had it in mind to find another solution. As he couldn’t see one, he started to worry again. He worries a lot does young Toby.”
“He told me that at one time he was great pals with the surgeon.” Jeremy started again.
“Yes, that’s true, until a few years ago, when he was fourteen or so, I guess. Then they quarrelled. It was after a run ashore in Tangiers. The men in his watch took him with them. I heard them saying, as we climbed down the net into the jolly boat… If he was old enough to be a top-man then he was old enough for Tangiers.”
“Well, what happened in Tangiers that changed things?”
“Everything happened. More things happened to Toby for the first time than you could possibly imagine… things you have absolutely no idea of.”
“He lay with a woman? You mean… he did it?” Jeremy didn’t want Ezra to think him entirely clueless.
“He lay with a woman, he rode one, another rode him, he was sucked. One was old enough to be his mother, He found her very exciting. Another was your age. He was a bit quiet about her, she reminded him of his sister… and he really didn’t like that. But… his mess-mates had paid for her and he needed to play the man for them.”
“So, the surgeon heard. Was he angry that Toby had been led astray?”. Jeremy was curious. Clearly Toby had spent a quite shocking shore-leave, and he could understand the surgeon being angry, he was in a sort of loco-parentis position after all.
“No… That had nothing at all to do with it. It was just that when Toby came back on board he was a completely new Toby.”
“In what way?” Jeremy asked, he thought that perhaps he was getting close to the answers he was seeking.
“I hadn’t been in that shore party…” Ezra was hesitant. “I remember I missed the time Toby and I would have spent here.” He sighed. “and… there was no-one else aboard to play with.”
“Not even the surgeon?” Jeremy laughed. Ezra smiled.
“No, not even the surgeon, he was ashore as well, seeking whatever Tangiers had to offer him.”
“So, when Toby came back… you were hot to carry on, and hear what he had been up to ashore?”
“Yes, of course, but Toby refused to even discuss it. We have never been up here together since. He stopped our fun that day. He said that what he wanted now was women, and that what we did before was… a game for children.”
“You must have been disappointed, but you stayed friends?”
“Yes, we smoked and drank and played skittles together just like we always had.” He paused for thought. “It wasn’t me who took his new-found interest in women badly.”
“It was the surgeon!” Jeremy now saw where the story had taken him. “That was when he first refused to satisfy the surgeon?”
“Yes and the surgeon wasn’t used to being turned down by a loblolly.” He tried persuasion, then he tried beatings, but always a fair beating… for genuine fault. He tried everything he could think of… He even tried being nice.”
“Nothing worked, and nothing was ever going to work.” Jeremy mused.
“What of the other boys… and you… Why didn’t the surgeon just move on?”
“It wasn’t his way. If Saucy is turned down, he offers a few more pies and buns, and if that doesn’t work, he smiles kindly and moves on to another boy. There’s nearly a hundred on a big ship, so why worry about one… That’s his attitude.”
“So, the surgeon quarrelled, and mistreated Toby. What happened with the other boys?”
“They ran a mile… They could see what a bad idea it was to let the surgeon get his hooks into you. Of course a few…” He looked embarrassed. “like me, we didn’t care, we were big enough to look after ourselves, and we like to go to him for some quiet fun. There were some smaller chaps who didn’t worry either, they were just playing with new toys and didn’t care. I think they reckoned they’d be on another ship before the surgeon became their problem.”
“But the ones Toby’s age that he really wanted… those stayed away, and… that’s when his approach got creepy. Now, he expects to be rejected. It makes him clumsy and unpleasant. He makes it seem our fault when we reject him” Ezra said.
“That’s sad.” Jeremy said.
“Yes, it is,” Ezra agreed. “and it all started after that run ashore. I wish we could go back and start again, keep Toby on board. It’s bad for me you see.”
“Why is that?” Jeremy suspected that this was going to fill in some of the gaps in his knowledge.
“Because I’m more like the surgeon than Toby.” He said very quietly. “My mess-mates organised a similar run ashore for me in Valetta, like they did for Toby.”
“Go on,” Jeremy said gently. “Let me guess… You didn’t enjoy it?”
“Well no, and yes!” He said cheering up and smiling. “No, I didn’t enjoy the women. The first one was nice enough, and gentle and it was fun, but the others were older and rougher and made jokes about my… I was younger then.”
“You were put off?”
“Yes I was put off, I got drunk and pretended I was too drunk to…”
“Did the men make fun?” Jeremy wondered how you coped in such a situation.
“Actually they were nice about it. They patted me on the back and told me it didn’t matter. They said it was all their fault for rushing me… Then one of them went off and had a quiet word with the carpenter’s mate.”
“The carpenter’s mate?” Jeremy asked.
“Yes, the carpenter’s mate. They said for me to go off with him, he could show me a different part of Valetta where the whores were nicer and would be more to my taste.” He was getting quieter by the moment.
“And were they? Nicer?”
Ezra pulled himself together, recovered some dignity, and said firmly…
“They were boys!”
There was a long silence.
Then Jeremy seeing tears in Ezra’s eyes, realised that Ezra thought the silence signified disapproval.
“So, the carpenter’s mate?…”
“The carpenter’s mate is like the surgeon and me.”
Now tears were flowing down Ezra’s cheeks, and Jeremy felt terrible.
He needed to be so careful in what he said next.
He trusted his instincts to get it right…
“Well, that was lucky, that he was there, and handy, I mean. It saved your shore leave from being wasted!”
Ezra risked a tentative smile.
“So, did your ship-mates stump up for the new set of whores?”
“They paid half… They joked that I’d already lost my virginity once at their expense, so I could pay towards losing it a second time. They helped towards a couple more on the third day. Actually, they were really decent about it.”
He cheered up.
“You aren’t shocked?” He asked.
“No, not shocked… interested… I had no idea!”
Jeremy went on to ask all the obvious questions of curiosity… How old were they, were they handsome, expensive, was there privacy?… He asked all the things you would ask in Jeremy’s position, at the top of a mainmast with a tearful topsman… who prefers boys to women. It was a curious position for an eleven year old officer to find himself in.
There were so many questions and so little time. There was a series of double bell rings from down on the deck, and Ezra leapt to his feet.
“I’m on watch, I must be off, Do try to sort things out for the surgeon. He’s a better man than he looks, and… for God’s sake don’t let him leave us! We need him!”
Jeremy had a lot to think about. He went to discuss it with Saucy. He found him in the orlop where the surgeon was finishing re-bandaging his burns. Jeremy sat and watched the skilled and gentle hands of the surgeon. He could imagine those gentle hands at work, and his body stirred. He pushed the thoughts back down, that wasn’t why he was there. Then the thought popped into his head… ‘it wasn’t, but could it be?’.
That was a thought he really didn’t want to follow. So he spoke…
“Surgeon, I’m fascinated by how you do that without hurting Saucy, would you be kind enough to explain it to me someday. I think that for an officer to understand a little about treating wounds… There are more important people than officers to treat during a battle. It would be useful for the quarterdeck to be able to look after its own.”
If there was anything the surgeon was enthusiastic about, other than boys, it was medicine, and passing on his knowledge. His eyes lit up.
“Of course Young-Gentleman Pepys… I should be delighted!”
Beyond him, Saucy gave Jeremy a saucy wink and a grin. Then he winced as a distracted surgeon was un-characteristically clumsy.
“Ouch!” Saucy said. “Keep your mind on the job, surgeon. Remember the lad’s an officer and not one of the boy-seamen. He’s worth getting to know… and none of your biblical nonsense neither. Play nicely!”
Jeremy was in.
Now the question was…
Could Jeremy sort out the surgeon, before the surgeon tried to sort out Jeremy?
It was a few days later that Jeremy visited the orlop in search of Saucy, only to find that he had been discharged back to his galley, not that he was in a fit state to cook yet.
So, instead of the cook, he found the surgeon sitting reading Nicholas Culpeper’s Compleat Herbal.
“Is it interesting?” said Jeremy, looking over the surgeon’s shoulder.
“Aye, lad. It is. But a little dry for you I think. Now a book of poisons would be more to a young lad’s taste I think.” He laughed, and it was a surprisingly light and pleasant sound. He didn’t seem to be exactly what Jeremy had expected after the afternoon of David’s flogging.
“Oh, I don’t know. I imagine herbal remedies are a lot more use than poisons.” Jeremy mused. “You can go on treating someone for weeks with a remedy, but you only get to use a poison once.”
That made the surgeon laugh again.
“There’s more to you than most of the lads on the ship.”
“I lost my mother a few years ago, and my father was an invalid after Naseby. He taught me to discuss philosophy after dinner. But… then he died, and now I’m here with my Uncle Samuel… as an orphan, preparing for a life at sea.”
“Are you enjoying it?”
“Well I was, until Saucy had his accident, and David arrested himself for it. That turned out badly.”
“Yes it did, though he did well. I was impressed. In fact, both of you did well to keep your nerve that afternoon.”
“But, I…” Jeremy started, but the surgeon cut him off.
“Yes, I know you did. So did I at the First Battle of Newbury. I was hard as iron all the time I was dressing wounds and cutting off limbs. Do you know why?”
“No sir?” The sir wasn’t stressed, but showed that Jeremy was beginning to be impressed by this man, a man who could admit such a thing without the slightest sign of embarrassment.
“When men are faced with extreme danger, their instinct is to create babies, to ensure that there is someone to follow them if they are killed. I think it was a Greek philosopher who said that.”
“Well, that makes sense… Thank you surgeon, that does make me feel better!”
“Were you injured at Newbury?”
“Yes, on Parliament’s side…” He said this cautiously, knowing of Jeremy’s Royalist feelings. “But not as seriously as Culpeper here..” He waved the book. “He was wounded seriously in the chest. We loaded him on a cart and sent him back to London. He died eventually, but he wrote some very good herbal texts before he went.”
Jeremy took a closer look at the book, the black and white illustrations were carefully and skilfully coloured with paint.
“Did you do the painting?”
“Yes, to qualify as an apothecary, one of the things you have to do is to colour your herbal, partly to show you have at least looked at every page, but mainly to demonstrate that you know what each plant actually looks like. You’re supposed to colour them in the field from living specimens.”
“Fascinating!” Jeremy said, but his mind was already elsewhere…
“My father fought at Naseby, and was wounded… for the King! I wish you had been on our side, he needed your help that day.”
“Well, we were on opposite sides then, but times are changing. It’s time to see what a new king can do for our troubled land.”
Jeremy held out his hand… “Let’s shake on that then!”
The surgeon took his hand. “Yes, indeed. Can we be friends?”
“Yes, I should like that. But… Please don’t think that I mean to be the sort of friend that my father wouldn’t respect. I’m not one of the ship’s boys!”
“No, I don’t think you are. You are every inch an officer… Even if your inches still need stretching at times!” Then he laughed and his eyes twinkled, and Jeremy joined him.
“Tell me Sir. What is it makes some of the men pursue the ship’s boys. I know they need women and there aren’t any… and so on, but some seem to just chase boys without thought of women… You and Saucy and… a few amongst the younger sailors too. Why’s that?”
The surgeon thought for a moment.
“I could just say that they are men who have needs of their own, but that wouldn’t be much of an answer. You’ve asked a grown-up question so you deserve a grown-up answer. The thing is… Some men like women, and some of them like very young women, girls even. Some like men, and some of those much prefer boys… That’s just the way things are, it’s the way the Almighty made us.”
Jeremy nodded and said. “That’s what I thought. It’s the same with boys I think, some want to play, some don’t, and some like me aren’t really interested yet…” He paused and then plunged on… take your fences at a gallop, it’s safer… that’s what his father had always said.
“Some like Toby have moved on from us to women.”
There he had said it, now… how would the surgeon react?
The surgeon was silent for a moment.
“Is that the problem… with Toby… he’s grown up and wants women, now?”
“Yes, his messmates took him ashore at Tangiers and set him up… it was an eye-opener. Now he can only think about women. At least that’s how he put it to me.”
“He says he knows now what he was looking for all the time. It’s changed him completely. He just wants us to be friends, him and me, but he’s a great friend to have.” Jeremy added. The rest could go unsaid, he was an officer after all.
“Well, I’m blessed, I had no idea. Tangiers!” Surgeon said. “You mean, he doesn’t hate me for some slight that I’d forgotten?”
“No!” Jeremy replied. “He doesn’t hate you, he admires you tremendously… “
Jeremy had the opening he had been looking for.
“He calls you the best surgeon in the fleet. He said ‘I hope I’m half as good one day.’”
“That’s what he said? Well I never! But he’s so difficult these days.”
“Well, that’s not a mystery. He hates it when you try to make him play the games he once liked, like he did before Tangiers. So he avoids you, and when that fails he provokes a quarrel, just to put you off.”
“Well, what does he want if he doesn’t want to play?” Surgeon asked.
“That’s easy too… He wants you to train him to be the second best surgeon in the fleet!”
To Jeremy’s total surprise, a tear ran down the surgeon’s cheek.
“Culpeper taught me, and Toby wants me to teach him! Oh bless the boy. I’m so sorry… Tell him I’m sorry!”
“Why not tell him yourself?”
“I’m his pupil-master, I can’t apologise!”
“Of course you can. You’re not just his master… you’re his friend, a friend who’s responsible for a huge misunderstanding. I can’t think of a better reason, or a better opportunity… If you want the best and most enthusiastic pupil-surgeon in the fleet!”
At that moment, the subject of their deliberations entered carrying a meal.
“Here you go Surgeon, Sir.” Toby said, passing the meal. “Saucy is practising with light skillets, so he says. He sent this to his hero, the best ship’s surgeon that ever was!”
He looked as pleased and proud as if the words referred to himself.
“Those were his exact words!”
“Oh, my boy… I’m so sorry!” Surgeon was on his feet with his arms wrapped around the startled loblolly-boy. Toby looked over the surgeon’s shoulder at Jeremy and raised his eyebrows.
Jeremy grinned and nodded vigorously. “Surgeon thought you hated him, that he’d done something to upset you.”
“No, indeed!” Toby said, patting his master on the back. “I really didn’t want to… you know… anymore. But, that was nothing to do with you Sir. That was to do with the girls in Tangiers!”
“So, we never quarrelled?” Surgeon asked.
“No, we never quarrelled, though we did fall out!”
“Jeremy tells me that you want to become the second-best surgeon in the fleet.”
“The best in the fleet one day… after you’ve retired!”
“That won’t be for a while then… I can’t see me working a small garden ashore for many a year yet.”
“Well I can assure you that the Captain wants you to stay on.” Jeremy hesitated, but thought it was best all out in the open…
“When you leered at me, so grossly, after David’s flogging, I spoke to the Captain. He assured me that your value to the crew far out-weighed any silliness towards the boys… or any embarrassment you caused me. He said that he trusts you to harm no-one. Upsetting the occasional boy was a price he would willingly pay, so that the crew could have your services.”
“I upset you?” The surgeon took a step back. “Oh my goodness, I was smiling, only smiling… see…” and he grimaced an alarming leer.
“That,” said Jeremy judiciously. “is not a smile. That is a leer!”
“That,” said the surgeon with exaggerated dignity. “is the wound I received at Newbury, it nicked a facial nerve. I thought everyone knew I had a strange smile.” He looked crestfallen.
“What else can I do?” He asked Jeremy later when Toby had left to check on Saucy.
“No need to do anything, surgeon.” Jeremy replied “Toby is happy as… as a loblolly boy in blood and gore. Teach him. That’s all he needs to be happy. That and stop trying to persuade him to play.”
“I’ve stopped, I’ve stopped!”
Then, “and the other boys, the ones who avoid me?”
“That’s more difficult.” Jeremy thought for a moment.
“I think you need to sit and think… Some of them are young like me, we aren’t interested yet. For some it may be fun, for others it’s everything their mothers have taught them is wrong. Give them time, don’t go after them, wait for them to come looking for you when they are ready.” Inspiration came to him. “Ezra, for instance, you don’t chase Ezra.”
“No, I don’t need to chase Ezra… It’s a surprise how clumsy that boy is. I’ve lost count of the imaginary ailments he’s brought me.”
“But… he seeks you out and stays to… play?”
“Not play exactly. He’s of an age to know what he wants… he takes rather than plays these days.”
“and you like that too?” Jeremy was up and learning again.
“ Oh yes! That’s actually what I really like. I much prefer ones like Ezra, the young topmen, a bit beefy…” He tailed off, suddenly aware of who he was talking to.
“In that case, can I suggest that you give up on the young fellows?”
“You think so?”
“I think so!” Jeremy said firmly. “You do realise that bothering the youngsters upsets the men? They may be tough and rough but they feel for the little guys… just before they clip their ears!”
“Really? It upsets them… the crew I mean?”
“Ezra told me, that if you weren’t the surgeon and more than worth your weight in gold to the crew… you’d have fallen into the hold by now. Those were his exact words… “fallen into the hold”.”
“Well, you can tell Ezra, that his message has been received! Oh my gracious me, what a mess… I only ever wanted to be friends.”
“And, satisfy your needs!” Jeremy said, feeling the point still needed to be made. “All the crew and I saw was that you had needs, and it was the boys who satisfied them.”
That was the point at which the gaunt man started to sob, and Jeremy put a kindly arm round him, and waited till he calmed.
“This has been quite an afternoon.” The ship’s surgeon said.
“Yes, it has. I’ve learned a great deal about men today.” Jeremy replied.
“Please ask Toby to tell the loblolly boys that I shan’t bother them again.”
“Oh dear. Really, you haven’t been listening. The loblollies are chasing you, not you chasing them. If you cut off their games I won’t be popular. Of the loblollies, it’s only Toby who needs a platonic hand, to guide his studies, to make him your successor as the best. He wants nothing more, and… he deserves nothing less.”
He turned to look the surgeon squarely in the eyes. “When you meet a new boy… Just think first, that’s all I ask. Think first… ask yourself who is chasing whom. He’ll almost certainly already know about you, someone will have warned him. If he wants to… you’ll know, and if he doesn’t want to… don’t make a move on him… That’s all there is to it I think.”
Jeremy got to his feet. He would look for Saucy now. He was hungry and Saucy was a lot less hard work.
He smiled at the surgeon as he left.
He got a most evil and lecherous leer in return.
This time Jeremy smiled back.
The mission to retrieve Charles Stuart now began to pick up pace.
On 22 May they were graced with the arrival of the Lord High Admiral of England, James Stuart, Duke of York, Charles Stuart’s brother. He had been appointed Lord High Admiral at the unlikely age of four! For twenty three years the post had been merely the vanity of an exiled court. Now, aged 27 he could really take command. Although, under the terms of the Declaration of Breda, he now reported to Parliament and not to his brother, the King.
It would be interesting to see how King and Parliament divided the role in practise.
The next day, 23 May, the King made his first step onto English territory since his exile after the death of his father on a scaffold in Whitehall. It wasn’t quite English soil, but the oaken deck of the Naseby was territory enough for the King.
The King had returned.
He came with his two brothers; The Duke of York and the Duke of Gloucester.
David and Jeremy watched the proceedings from the crows-nest.
Above them flew a great silken Royal Standard, the mizzen mast too carried a silk flag, one with the anchor and cable of the Duke of York.
Bright red silk streamers and pennants flew in the breeze. There were even red silk broad-ribbons wound round the tops of the masts. Lord Montagu must have been prepared. Jeremy hadn’t seen all the decorations arrive.
David and Jeremy were beside themselves with joy. David, his new found dignity forgotten for the moment, was jumping up and down in a manner most unsuited to an officer. He was not alone, one junior officer on the quarterdeck was already contemplating his expensive hat, floating away on the waves and wondering how sensible it had been to throw it to join the sailors’ caps. How now would he salute his King?
As the King approached the ship’s side in Lord Montagu’s Admiral’s Barge, a great shout went up from the assembled crew, not least from the top of the mainmast.
The first thing that the King did as he set foot on the deck was to rename the ship.
He could hardly stand on a deck that was named after his father’s greatest defeat. The Battle of Naseby, the defeat that ultimately cost him his crown, and the head it had sat upon!
So, now the ship was renamed, more appropriately… the Royal Charles.
To show their joy at the King’s return, the gunners of the Royal Charles fired a 70-gun salute, and… just in case His Majesty had missed it the first time, they did so again, twice!
The Vice Admiral’s ship then followed suit with his 64 guns, and the Rear Admiral after him. There had been naval battles with less noise and smoke. The fleet was close packed on the sea and by the time everyone had shown how pleased they were to see the King… no-one could see him, so dense was the smoke.
David and Jeremy, from their high perch had never in their lives been so excited.
They hugged and kissed amidst the smoke, and even David’s wayward mind (and skilled right-hand) weren’t wandering that day.