A Royal Achievement

by Solsticeman


monarch_coat-of-arms

Chapter Nineteen

The surgeon looked up at Admiral Lord Montagu with a face full of pride and pleasure…

“Did you see Sir? Young Toby here did the last dozen stitches… My old eyes weren’t up to it… He’s a fine surgeon!”

Lord Montagu approved of both his new surgeons… clearly someone had sorted out the old surgeon!

“John… How is he?”

“We’ve got the circulation back in his leg and foot. Now we need to re-attach the muscle. It’s a clean cut so we should be able to re-establish some use, but my worry is that the nerves are damaged and those I can’t sew up.”

Montagu silently approved of the way the surgeon said we, he wasn’t just him anymore, he was we.  Yes, a great improvement.

“He’ll walk again if we can get all that done before he wakes. Time’s against us. It’ll be too painful to do carefully and slowly once he’s awake.”

Lord Montagu took that to be the surgeon’s way of telling his commanding officer to go away and let him get on. So that was what he did.

 

Surgeon turned back to the job in hand, showing Toby the strong stitches needed to re-attach muscle to muscle and muscle to bone. When that was done he carefully cleaned out the wound with rum. Nobody else seemed to care but Surgeon was of the opinion that keeping things clean could only help. It was one of the many tips that were being passed on to Toby.

Lord Montagu was thinking to himself as he watched. ‘When he retires I shall see that he comes to Hinchingbrooke. A cottage on the estate will provide Huntingdon and the county with a good surgeon… and I’ll have someone I can trust to look after me in my old age!’

Today he was feeling older, he was beginning to understand what the junior officers meant when they said… If that boy doesn’t get us killed first!”

Things had worked out well, but there was still the question of how Jeremy came to be fighting on his own in a dark alley! He sent for a somewhat crestfallen Captain of Marines.

“Well Marines… We are two men down… What went wrong?”

Lord Montagu was not beating about the bush.

“Sir, once we were ashore we divided into four parties as planned. Marine Jenkins and a squad of men took the boys to look for the Bagnio, as ordered. Two parties guarded the right and left flank and the rest guarded the quayside while the barges stood off to avoid any risk of capture.”

“So… what went wrong?”

“Jenkins’ party advanced past the chandlers and warehouses on the quayside, quietly to avoid alarm. When they were in that alley, a drunken mob of buccaneers appeared out of one of the warehouses… raiding stolen liquor I reckon…”

“Get on with it man!”

“Jenkins’s party was out of our sight, in the alley, that was when pirates attacked them from both ends at once. The alley narrowed, so there was only room for one man to fight at the front where John and Jeremy were, but three pirates could get at their rear. So almost all the party was fighting at the rear, just Jenkins and the lads at the point.”

“So, who is to blame? Jenkins?”

“Lord no, Sir. Not Jenkins. He managed well. His men were all needed to hold the rear while Jenkins held the front on his own. I had a look after we responded to the musket fire, the trouble seems to be that there was a lot of blood from the first drunk pirate that Jenkins cut down and things got slippery. I reckon Jenkins was swinging a cutlass and the sudden movement caused him to slip. The pirates took advantage of the moment and Jenkins went down. The rear of his party came to his aid as soon as they could, but there were half a dozen pirates for them to dispose of first.”

“What of the boys… I find it hard to credit what I’ve been told!”

“Well, you’ll appreciate that young-Pepys insisted on taking just his court-sword, a small-sword because he knew he wasn’t going to make much of a fist of swinging a cutlass. Well, when Jenkins went down, he leaped over Jenkin’s body and stood astride him. He was holding his court-sword as if he was at a fencing lesson. I don’t think the pirates can have ever seen the like. A huge one, so I’m told, took a great swing at him, but the cutlass struck the wall, and before he could recover young Jeremy… sorry Sir, Young-Gentleman Pepys had lunged and run the pirate through, front to back perfect centre of the target area. The pirate was dead before he knew he had been hit.”

“Good Lord, Pure luck!”

“No Sir! No luck at all. My men say he did it again, twice! The men say it was like watching a duel. He was so calm, just like a duel, he even had young Timothy as his second. He was standing there with his dagger ready to take over if Pepys went down.”

“A dagger, what use would a dagger be?”

He thought for a moment, then smiled… “Marines, did you hear what young-Pepys said when we first met on the Tower quay… I asked him what he should do if attacked by a Barbary Pirate. I expected him to say run or hide or something sensible… Do you know what he said?”

Marines shook his head.

“Why Sir, I should die.” Montagu smiled. “That’s what he said.. “I should die.”

“He reckoned that if the only alternative was to run or hide, then dying was the right thing to do.”

“Not hide, or step behind the nearest Marine?” Marines asked.

“No, he said his father would not have approved of hiding or running. He said he could only do what his father would have respected… to fight and die.”

“I hear his father was terribly wounded at Naseby.” Marines said quietly.

“A family tradition it would appear. Still, he’ll need to wait for next time now.”

Lord Montagu laughed.

“What of young Timothy? He seems to be cut from the same cloth. I’m told he had drawn his dagger and was looking fierce!” Marines roared with laughter.

“Oh what a squad of heroes! John really didn’t know what a bunch of tearaways he was leading to war!”

“Well, they saved your man, for all their lack of size. You know Jeremy’s fencing master taught the King before he went into exile?”

“He taught him well. I hope you will pass that on to the King, that fencing-master deserves a reward too I reckon.”

“Yes, and the news of what the first King’s-Letter-Boys have done will cheer the King too. I’ll send a despatch.”

“May I be excused Sir? I ought to check on Jenkins, and a couple of others got minor wounds, the orlop is busy tonight.”

“Yes, I just watched young Toby doing some very neat stitching. We seem to have two good surgeons, one who knows what to do and one who can see what he’s doing… they make a good team.” Lord Montagu was in a good mood.

“Pass a message to the Master. As soon as the fleet has disengaged and withdrawn to sea… Splice the Mainbrace! The men deserve it. Tell them it’s to celebrate a successful mission to save over a hundred Christian slaves, mainly women and children… and the safe return of my son. I shall toast them from the quarterdeck, and walk amongst them. Damn me. Yes, indeed I shall!”

 

Down in the orlop, John’s broken leg had been straightened, stretched and splinted. The pain of that was enough to break through the torpor that the loss of blood had created.

The surgeon brought a mug of rum to his patient’s lips…

“Sip gently, you’ve been wounded but I reckon you’ll live!”

“Wounded? I was a goner! He was going to finish me off… I don’t remember anything after that.”

“I reckon you banged your head on the way down, good thing too, meant you lay still and didn’t get in Jeremy’s way.”

“Jeremy? Oh my God!… Are the boys alright?”

“Alright. Look here, ask them yourself…” He pushed the three forward. They had watched it all, too fascinated to look away and too worried for John to want to… But they had edged as far away from the carnage and butchery as seemed decent.

David was looking serious… “You came to save me! You did all that for me?” He asked the wounded man.

John smiled through the pain… “You ask the wrong question… I just did my duty, that’s all I needed to do, but we…” He gestured at everyone in the room… “we all did our duty for you, and that included your father, the Admiral.” John looked up and saw said father standing in the entry to the orlop. David saw John’s eyes sharpen, and looked up to see tears pouring down his father’s face.

Even at this moment it was difficult for an Admiral, on his own flagship, to bend the conventions of Naval discipline. He might not be able to bend, but he could stoop. He approached the group, and stooped to gather his son into his arms, but his eyes didn’t leave the face of the man who had brought the boys back to him, the man without whom he would never have allowed Jeremy and Timothy to go ashore with the knowledge it took to find his son.

He owed this man.

“Thank you Jenkins… I shall not forget what I owe you.”

That was all he managed to get out before his throat locked up. This was the man whose oratory alongside General Monck had persuaded Parliament to recall the King.

It was not often that Lord Montagu was speechless, but he was now.

“I’m alright Sir. Surgeon is looking after me… You look after David, please.”

“I’ll be back.”  His Admiral managed.

“I’ll be here Sir!”

Lord Montagu once again had command of himself, once again he was in command.

“Surgeon, give this man anything he needs. Saucy will provide his rations.” He paused for thought. “Give me an hour and then, when you are free, whatever the hour, report to my day-cabin. I shall require a full report.”

He looked again at John as he said it… Already he was thinking.

Futures were changing.

He turned to Jeremy and Timothy. “Come with me, let’s give David some time with his friend… You can tell me what went on.”

He turned to his Captain of Marines, who was still at his elbow.

“Thank you Marines, you and your men did exceptionally well. The King shall hear of this rescue and of your action.”

Most uncharacteristically, he held out his hand and shook a startled Marine Captain’s hand.

“Thank you Sir. My men were all only doing their duty. But… to save young David they would have gone to Hell and back. He’s a remarkable young man. I wish he were my son!”

It was a long speech and in Naval tradition totally inappropriate, but Montagu smiled gently and patted him on the arm as he passed.

David did seem to bring out the best in men.

 

 “Tell me all about it.” Lord Montagu said as he settled Jeremy and Timothy onto the settle that stretched the width of the great window of his stateroom at the stern of the Royal James. “Your landing was unopposed?”

“Oh yes Sir. From Uncle Samuel’s books we knew that there was a fish market at the end of the quay and no-one would be there at that time of night, especially with an English fleet somewhere outside the estuary. If they were going to fish it would be inland, upriver, and in that case they wouldn’t be back until dawn.”

“Timothy… you knew where the Bagnio prison was?”

“Well, yes and no Sir. First we had to work our way back to where the main river was. I knew that once we were back at the main quay I would be sure of where I was. That was where Father and I were unloaded by the buccaneers.”

“You worked your way back along the quay?”

“Yes, and once we were certain we knew where we were, the Captain of Marines sent his flanking parties out. He was securing the rear and the barges, and then, John Jenkins and our escort moved us off the main quay into the warehouse area. That was when I spotted the alley-way that I knew led to the Bagnio, behind the warehouses.”

“So where did the pirates appear from?”

“From one of the warehouses. The Marines checked later and found signs of a break-in and crates of spirits that had been broken into!” Jeremy was keen to absolve the Marines of any blame. “We had no reason to expect them in a warehouse at that hour, we were just unlucky that they had chosen that warehouse for a stolen tipple.”

“I see. So, Marine Jenkins and his party were in close order around you as you entered the alley?”

“Yes indeed Sir. He was taking good care of us, just as you ordered Sir. It was just as we got to the end of the alley, Timmy here stuck his head out to see if he was right. That was what he was there for, and then he said that the Bagnio was in the next street. I think that his blond hair must have caught the moonlight. A pirate shouted, Timmy ducked back out of sight and the Marines grabbed him and took up position around us.”

“But, it was too late, you’d been spotted?”

“Yes-sir, indeed we had. They raised a great hullabaloo. Of course the alley was narrow where it came out, so most of the buccaneers ran off. But, actually they were running round the corner to the other end of the alley, so then there was a great hullabaloo there as well. Jenkins was making sure that end was secure, but then the pirates at our end became a problem again. The problem was that I was behind Timmy and in Marine Jenkins’ way. He shouted to guard our rear, and then there was a fight going on at both ends of the alley. We managed to get Timmy out of the way, I got the first pirate and then Jenkins took over. There was only room for one man there, and anyway the rest were fighting in the larger other end.”

He gathered his memory and took a deep breath. Lord Montagu could see that he was quietly shaken, and gave him time to compose himself. Then…

“John ordered us to withdraw a bit, into the alley, so that the pirates would be inconvenienced by the narrowness. Then there was a great clatter of cutlasses at both ends. I can’t swear to what was happening at the rear, but I heard a few cheers and well-dones.”

“So, was that when Jenkins got wounded?”

“Yes-Sir. There was blood everywhere. A pirate came at us and John leapt to meet him and slipped in the blood. He nearly fell but braced himself against the wall. That was when the pirate got a swing at him and caught him on the leg. His legs went from under him and down he went.”

Jeremy paused to get his breath, and disturbed by the memory fell silent.

Timothy leapt into the gap…

“Sir, You should have seen Jeremy Sir! He ran up John’s back and then stood astride his head. The pirate swung his cutlass at him but seeing as Jeremy’s so short the blade swept over his head and hit the alley wall with a great clang. That was when Jeremy lunged. His court-sword went straight through the man. Honestly sir I saw the far end out of the man’s back!”

Young-Timothy was in full blood-thirsty flight, and Jeremy was as impressed by the story as was Lord Montagu, so he didn’t interrupt.

“You knew to withdraw? To avoid the blade getting jammed when he fell?”

Montagu was interested in the details of a fight between such an unlikely pair of weapons… cutlass versus court-sword.

“Yessir.” Jeremy answered. “My fencing master at Buckden taught me to always pull the blade back quickly, in case of a need to parry.”

“Where had you caught him?”

“Oh, in the heart Sir. I was really lucky with that one. He had missed my head and the swing left him completely open. I got him low in the stomach and then riposted through the heart. I knew he was dead as soon as the blade entered. It really was a very lucky stroke.”

Jeremy might call it luck but Lord Montagu knew better.

“Luck? Stuff and nonsense boy. There’s no luck in a sword fight. You were quicker and better taught than he was… and a great deal more sober too I’ll warrant.”

Jeremy smiled. “That’s the thing about being thirteen, you do tend to be sober.”

Lord Montagu’s laugh could be heard on the deck.

“So that was one down and half a town to go?”

Timothy burst in at that point… “Actually Sir, that wasn’t one down… Jeremy had already killed another one!”

Lord Montagu looked startled… “You had?” He asked of Jeremy.

“Umm, Yes Sir, but he was more of an accident. He came running into the alley before the others. We were sorting ourselves out, and I was nearest. He swung, I managed to prick his arm with my point and then I riposted, I was lucky to get away with it… and John told me to stay out of the way. He said that killing people was his job. We did our best to stay out of the way… but Timmy here was sure we had found the Bagnio, and we didn’t mean to be seen.”

“Returning to the main fight then, You were in a good position in the alley, they couldn’t exactly surround you.”

Lord Montagu was obviously in a good mood… and why wouldn’t he be?

The indiscipline that had resulted in them being spotted was being quietly overlooked.

Jeremy sighed with relief.

“Yes Sir, there were a lot of them, but only one could get to me at a time, and they soon realised my sword had a long reach and a nasty sting on the end.”

“Weren’t you getting tired? I’ve always found that jumping around and swinging a sword wears me out.” Lord Montagu was rather heavily built which may have accounted for his lack of stamina.

“Oh no Sir, Not at first, I was tired later when they pressed into the alley and tried to wear me down, but at first I was alright. I’m reasonably fit and I knew my dancing was ruining their aim.”

“Dancing?”

“Well, you know what I mean Sir… I wasn’t allowing them to get an aim at a stationary target Sir. Lunge, parry, riposte, withdraw, lunge again… that’s what my teacher said, so I kept moving.

“But they pressed in?”

“Yes Sir, the ones at the back were drunk and kept pushing the ones at the front forward.” He went a bit quiet and pale at the memory. “But, that just allowed me to get a lunge in each time they stumbled on blood… or a body.”

“How many did you get?”

“Another two Sir.” Jeremy didn’t say it with the pride he might have thirty minutes earlier. The reality of having killed three, or was it four men, was overcoming the pride he had in having done it.”

“Marine Jenkins… John, had he made any move at this stage?”

“No Sir!” Timothy piped up. “He was spark out. He’d hit his head on the wall… there was blood all over his face.”

He was still young enough for the fight to have seemed unreal.

“Sir, Jeremy was wonderful. He just stood there fencing as if he was in the Great Gallery at home.” Lord Montagu’s ears pricked… a Great Gallery… a village rector with a Great Gallery. He thought that perhaps Timothy was excited and tired enough to have been careless.

Timothy was sounding almost dreamy in his admiration for his hero.

Lord Montagu smiled at the evident hero-worship. David clearly no longer had a clear run at young Jeremy. Maybe that was just as well.

It was only a few days ago that Timothy’s hero-worship was fixated on David for rescuing him from the sea and the shark.

Perhaps the child was fickle… or perhaps his heart was big enough to encompass both his loves. Perhaps he didn’t yet fully understand what that meant. Or, for that matter, what both boys had saved him from… a shark on the one hand and a love-hungry Barbary pasha on the other. He didn’t understand, and that was just as well.

Lord Montagu smiled grimly to himself… the lad really had no idea how lucky he had been and exactly what he had been saved from… the shark wasn’t the worst that could have happened to him… There were indeed fates worse than death on the Barbary Coast.

He pulled himself together…

“You were getting tired towards the end Marines tells me.”

“Yes Sir. It was intense and I couldn’t take a rest like I would running up the mast. It was beginning to wear me down!” Then he grinned… “But it would have been alright, Timmy here was ready to take over!”

“You were going to sell yourself dearly, young man?” Montagu asked Timothy with a smile.

“I was going to bite his ankle if necessary, Sir!” Timothy replied with a fetching smile.

“Don’t believe it Sir, he had his dagger and he was prepared to use it. I think he’d have had the pirates so unsure what to do that he’d have ham-strung a few before they’d worked him out.” Jeremy turned and playfully ruffled his friend’s hair.

“Ham-strung them… Now, that’s an excellent suggestion. I’ll remember that, Thank you.” Timothy’s grin gave him away.

“I sincerely hope the need won’t arise again!”

Lord Montagu didn’t have enough experience as a father to know when boys were serious and when they were joking…

“Time for bed!” … Always an adults best answer to boisterous boys.

“You two must be tired… Has Saucy fed you? Good, then off to your hammocks with you. I shall visit Marine Jenkins after I’ve seen Surgeon, He’s due at my day-cabin, so off you go… and very well done, both of you… an exceptional day’s work that the Navy Board… and the King shall hear of. Well done indeed! A very creditable start to your careers in the Navy!”

“Thank you Sir!” The pair chorused, and then Jeremy added “and, I’m so glad you got David back. Thank you for letting us go after him.”

“Thank you for bringing him back to me… and for seeing that my concern for my son didn’t cost us a good Marine.”

With that he shooed them off to their space behind the panelling and went to check on John and to find the surgeon.

He found David still sitting beside John Jenkins. He and Toby were taking it in turns to stay awake to make sure that he didn’t disturb his stitches or dressings while he slept. Lord Montagu murmured approval and patted his son on the back, as much as anything to reassure himself that the boy was real and safe.

 

Surgeon was waiting outside Lord Montagu’s day-cabin.

“Come in Surgeon, sit yourself down. I was pleased with your work today. That was a fine job you did on Jenkins, and a fine job you’ve done of training young Toby. Let’s talk about him first… What are your plans for him?”

“Well Sir, Thank you Sir… I was just doing my job. But Toby, yes he is like a sponge, I tell him something once and he has it. When I showed him how to suture a wound I found him two days later with a fresh side of pork that he had borrowed from the cook. He was making cuts and then sewing them up, and making each row neater than the last. To be honest, I couldn’t speak, it was such a wonderful sight, I went back to the orlop to compose myself.”

“Is it the Barber-Surgeons Hall examination for him?”

“Oh certainly Sir. He could go now I think, but he’s a bit young and they might not take him seriously. Maybe next year.”

“Well, let me know when. As soon as he is ready and we are headed for port, I shall write a letter of commendation to the Master of Barber Surgeons Hall. I’ll make damn sure Toby is taken seriously.” He looked determined. “For my flagship to have two surgeons… that would be a great thing. I hear his ambition is to be the second-best surgeon in the Navy!”

“Aye Sir, He’s a kind lad… He’ll give me a run for my money. Culpepper trained me and I shall do my best with young Toby… and I’ll make sure he knows his duty is to train a youngster in his turn.”

“Now then, what about John Jenkins?”

“Well Sir, the leg bones will mend, I’m really confident of that. The muscles ought to be alright, though he may need to be careful not to strain them for some while, and the nerves aren’t as bad as I feared. It’s the blood vessels I worry at. Toby and I did our best stitches, but whether they are watertight remains to be seen. Still, thus far there’s no obvious bleeding. I sewed in some strips of boiled cotton rag to drain the wound.”

“Boiled rag? I’ve not heard that one!”

“It was my own teacher showed me that one Sir. He had no idea why it worked, but he’d noticed that freshly boiled cloth caused fewer infections than ordinary bandages. So when I need to drain a wound I boil the rag… it’s worked most times so far.”

“So, you fear infection?”

“Aye Sir, infection’s the risk, but I washed it out with rum before sewing him up. Not many infections can talk back to full-strength rum from the Carabee.”

“Well, what I want you to do is to let me know when he’s fit to move about. Make sure the Captain of Marines assigns him to light duties. I have a task for him later, but keep that to yourself. Just keep me informed of what you think he will be capable of when it’s all healed.”

“Aye Aye Sir. I’ll do that. He’s a good man and young-Montagu is very attached to him. If there is anything about soldiering that the lad needs to learn then Jenkins is the man for it.” Whether his opinion ought to have carried weight with an Admiral is a moot question, but all Lord Montagu said was… “Aye, I reckon you’re right Surgeon. It’s more or less what I have in mind, but keep it to yourself. I don’t want to get the lad excited about it yet.”

Half an hour later Montagu, senior that is, had sent his son to join the boys in their hammocks. David was out on his feet, John Jenkins was asleep and Toby was watching over him. All was well in the orlop.

Later, when Lord Montagu came again to see the patient. the orlop was clear of walking-wounded. A distantly-seated surgeon was doing paperwork, but was within call if needed.

John was now awake and in considerable pain. The surgeon had administered various potions said to help with pain. The main ingredient was alcohol in the form of the best dark navy-rum. The rest was flavouring to make it seem medicinal, but without spoiling the rum too much. Rum certainly helped with the pain, and greatly aided sleep.

The Admiral asked John about the fight, and thanked him for looking after the boys. He said that it was knowing they would be looked after that had made the rescue of the Christian slaves possible. Without Timothy’s knowledge of the waterfront and Bagnio and Jeremy’s knowledge of the town in general… the best David could have hoped for was to be traded out of slavery by one of the religious orders based in Malta. That could have taken a year… if he lasted that long.

“But Sir! I let you and them down by not reacting fast enough when the pirates appeared. I can’t forgive myself for that.”

“Well I can… and an Admiral’s forgiveness does count for something, especially on his own flagship!” Lord Montagu could afford to feel magnanimous, especially as he was in the process of solving a number of problems all at the same time.

“Surgeon says you’ll need to rest up, I’ve already spoken to Captain of Marines. When you are ready you can sit up on the quarterdeck as my personal guard. That way you can act as military tutor for young David. He needs a steady hand to distract him from other distractions.”

“You mean the crows-nest Sir?”

“Yes, I do mean the crows-nest. He’s getting a little too old for it to be ignorable.”

“He also needs to understand what a Marine contingent on a ship is there for, what it can do, and how it does it. One day soon he’ll have his own ship, and being my son, he won’t have had time to grow into the knowledge. Being my son has its advantages, but it also means that he’ll miss a lot of the rough and tumble of promotion through the ranks. You can fill that for him. Can you teach him musketry too… while seated I mean.”

“Aye aye Sir!” John brightened. Clearly, he wasn’t being put ashore as just another beggar in a home port.

“If my leg leaves me with a limp, Sir… is there any chance of training as a cook, like you arranged for Saucy?”

“No, not a chance!”

It was meant as a joke, but John didn’t know the punch-line yet, and looked crestfallen.

“Sorry Jenkins, not as a cook… What I really need is a land-agent, an estate manager for Hinchingbrooke House in Huntingdon. It’s a bit lonely there outside the town, it’s too close to the Great North Road and its outlaws. I need someone who can collect rents, arrange sales and leases, and make sure I’m not bilked by my farmers. And… as much to the point, I need someone who can use his military knowledge to secure the estate from footpads and outlaws.”

John was astonished at this change of fortune… Land-agent for a major country estate was… well it was nearly a country-gentleman.

“Oh thank you Sir! That’s more than I could ever dream of… I wish my wife and son were there to see it… your estate manager! Well I’m blessed.” He burst into tears, then quite illogically… “ I couldn’t be happier!” Tears streaming down his face.

“Well lets see about that… I have another task that goes with it, but there is someone else I need to speak to and get their agreement. Until then it must remain a secret between us, just in case some other arrangement is needed.”

“Anything Sir, ask it and it’s yours, whatever it is.”

“Well, it relates to young Timothy. You know his mother and father died before his rescue at sea?”

“Yes Sir, very sad Sir, He’s held up well, a boy to be proud of, any man would…”

His voice faded away, and his eyes went wide.

“Sir, you aren’t asking me to…”

“Well you are short of a son, a son to see you become my estate manager. Would Timothy fill the role?… If no-one else claims him first.”

“Oh Sir!…” There wasn’t an answer because a brave and tough Royal Marine had just started to cry again.

“Well, think about it. The first thing is to get you healed and back on your feet and then up on my quarterdeck. It’ll be six months or more before we are back in London, so there’s no hurry. Do exactly as Surgeon tells you. The day he tells me you are fit, and beyond risk of infection, I’ll have completed other arrangements and we can ask the boy himself. Is it what you want… if I can make it happen?”

“Yes Sir, with all my heart yes! Sir!”

“Right well get well then, I shan’t say anything to him until you are fit. He stands in great need of a father, but we can’t risk orphaning him twice in one voyage, so look after yourself.”

“Aye aye Sir!” Then he burst into tears again, but this time there was a definite grin.

 

It took two months before Jenkins could make it to the quarterdeck unaided. The carpenter rigged up a temporary platform so that two men could stand and lift him bodily onto the quarterdeck. The first time it happened, David was sent for to report to the Officer of the Watch. When he saw John standing by the rail he burst into tears.

The crew saw what had happened and cheered. There were weaknesses in officers that they were happy to celebrate.

When Timothy saw his John walking, he ran up to him and then stopped short, stepped forward gingerly, and very gently hugged him.

“Don’t worry lad, you won’t break me. Surgeon and Toby have done far too good a job for that. Just don’t ask me to chase after you. If you are going to need catching by a Marine… run slowly!”

He ruffled Timmy’s hair and the Officer of the Watch looked on benevolently.

The Captain of Marines had avoided being present for the meeting… predicting, accurately, that there would be little military decorum.

Even the Admiral came to wish him well.

“It’s time for me to have a chat with the main party to this contract.”

“Good luck Sir. If this is the first contract I secure for the Hinchingbrooke estate then it will be my best.”

“I’ll make sure of the lie of the land, and then if all is well, I’ll leave it to you to pop the question. Does that sit well with you?”

“Aye Sir. I reckon that’s the right way to do it. He needs to know how much I want it… I mean him!”

 

Lord Montagu went down to his state-room. Settled himself on the settle by the great window and asked David to fetch young-Timothy, or rather Kings-Letter-Boy Kingsman. He also asked him to ensure that they weren’t disturbed… or overheard. David quickly promised that the panelling would be unoccupied.

He understood what his father meant. Despite intense curiosity, his sense of honour now made it impossible for him to eavesdrop.

Lord Montagu was determined to catch the right balance between the formality of the boy’s important decision, and the need to not alarm him.

When Timothy arrived he found himself seated beside his Admiral and offered small-beer. This should have set him at ease, but had the exactly opposite effect. His Admiral clearly had something important in mind.

‘At least I have no relatives who might have died, But what can he want, that needs small-beer to keep me quiet?’ He thought.

Then of course he started worrying about David, and Jeremy and… the Marine, and…

“Are you happy here on the Royal James?”

The question took the boy by surprise. That wasn’t what he had expected.

“Yes Sir. Indeed Sir, it’s a perfect life. Thank you Sir.”

“Well, between voyages we shall welcome you to Hinchingbrooke as one of the family.” He smiled warmly. “David tells me that is what we shall do.”

“David has been very kind. I’m so pleased he is safe, but I’m so sorry that my carelessness got Marine Jenkins injured.” He brightened. “He walked on the quarterdeck unaided today… Isn’t that wonderful!”

“Actually, that is why we are here.”

“It is Sir? Marine Jenkins Sir… Do you want me to see him and apologise properly? I would be very happy to Sir.”

“No. No indeed, he understands. You were all very keen that night.”

“No, it’s quite a different matter Timothy… You know he had a son who died?”

“Oh yes Sir. That was terrible, David told me. They hanged him… his mother was watching… it was terrible Sir.” He promptly burst into tears.

Lord Montagu winced… the mother had witnessed the execution… kept her boy company to the last! What a woman!

He pulled himself together.

“Well, that’s something you two have in common… He lost his son, and you have lost your parents.”  Lord Montagu allowed the silence to grow… to see if …

“I’m very fond of Mr Jenkins… “ Timothy offered tentatively.

“Yes, he is a very fine man… It’s such a pity about his son, He would make any boy a very fine father…”

There was another long silence while Timothy asked himself if there was a second meaning to all of this. What he thought was being said was too wonderful to be true.

“Are you asking me what I think… I hope you are asking Sir?”

Lord Montagu nodded gently.

“Assuming I am, what would you say?”

 

solsticeman@yahoo.com

NEXT CHAPTER